Sure, the holidays are cheery and jolly. But if all of that is starting to get to you, then maybe it’s time to pick up a mystery or thriller. This season brings an electrifying, thrilling, and terrifying crop of novels, including a dark tale about the aftermath of a BB gun attack and a chilling story about a nanny. The books on this roundup are dark, twisty, and guaranteed to keep you up past your bedtime. Don’t worry, we won’t tell Santa.
A long time coming
In Steve Mosby’s new novel, a detective finds himself on the trail of a prolific serial murderer known as the Red River Killer. This criminal has been eluding the police for two decades, but it looks like the authorities may be about to catch him. A car crash leads investigators to a garage with shocking contents: a woman who has been treated monstrously but is somehow still alive, and containers full of human remains. This could only be the work of the Red River Killer. Detective Will Turner, who has secrets of his own, wants nothing more than to be the person who finally corners him, but he’ll have to work fast before the body count rises even higher.
On shelves: December 5
Lost and found
FBI Agent Elsa Myers has a specialty: missing persons. Namely, she finds them. In this first installment in a new series from Karen Ellis, Elsa takes a case in Forest Hills, Queens, concerning a teenager named Ruby who has seemingly disappeared. The investigation starts to point to a killer who has been at work for quite a while, and Elsa finds the case increasingly emotionally taxing. Elsa has a dark past of her own—her mother was murdered when she was young—and her search for Ruby is threatening to swallow her up. As Elsa struggles with her compulsion to self-harm, Ruby’s case grows more and more dire.
On shelves: January 2
What happens in the past doesn’t stay in the past. In 1982, a violent BB gun attack changes three lives forever. Hannah, Patrick, and Matthew were never the same after that, and each copes with the aftermath and their role in the attack in very different ways. Several decades later, their paths converge again in New York City, and it is impossible to keep the past at bay. In a starred review, Kirkus raved: “Mesmerizing and impossible to put down, this novel demands full attention, full empathy, and full responsibility; in return it offers poignant insight into human fragility and resilience.”
On shelves: January 9
Unhappy wife, unhappy life
You probably think you know this story, but we’re willing to bet that authors Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen have a trick or two up their sleeves that will catch you by surprise. Vanessa was married to Richard once, but that fell apart after the two struggled with fertility. Now, Richard is engaged to marry Nellie, and Vanessa is determined to keep it from happening. She becomes eerily fixated on Nellie, and readers will begin to wonder what lengths Vanessa will go to in order to get her way. We dare you not to devour this book in a single sitting.
On shelves: January 9
The kids aren’t alright
This book may be new to American readers, but it’s already a big hit in France where it won the prestigious Prix Goncourt. Author Leïla Slimani taps into a terrifying possibility: the idea that a nanny would intentionally hurt the family he or she works for. In this chilling novel, a well-off French family hires a woman named Louise to look after their children while they are at work. At first, all is well with Louise. But then, the relationship starts to go south, and it becomes terrifyingly apparent that Louise is capable of the unimaginable. This novel is upsetting, incisive, and unforgettable.
On shelves: January 9
The Big Easy
Fans of historical crime fiction: Look no further than King Zeno this fall. Nathaniel Rich’s novel will transport you to New Orleans in 1918, where an ax murderer is on the loose, a cornet player named Isadore Zeno is playing jazz, and a widow oversees building work on the canal connecting the Mississippi River and Lake Pontchartrain. Detective William Bastrop is on the hunt for the ax murderer, and his investigation will tangle these lives together in vivid and interesting ways. With its memorable cast of character and historical flourishes, King Zeno is a winner.
On shelves: January 9
A most unusual scene
Ross Carver is at a crime scene in San Francisco, which isn’t unusual in his line of work as a homicide inspector. But what is strange is what he finds there: There’s a dead body, and it is covered entirely in something that he can’t quite explain. It looks almost like a mold of some sort, and it is destroying the corpse. Almost immediately, the FBI arrives on the scene. They forcibly disinfect Carver, and he wakes up days later with chunks of time missing from his memory. What has Carver witnessed, and what might it mean? Carver will team up with his neighbor to try to get to the bottom of things.
On shelves: January 16
Did he or didn’t he
Sarah Vaughan’s Anatomy of a Scandal is surely one of the season’s most buzzed-about thrillers, and it has already garnered starred reviews from Kirkus, Publishers Weekly, and Booklist. James Whitehouse is a prominent citizen and politician who has been accused of rape. His wife, Sophie, cannot believe that he is capable of such a thing. Kate is the lawyer intent on convicting James and destroying his career, but why? Told in alternating viewpoints, the story follows the trial and a second narrative thread from the past picks up steam. Can’t stand to wait until pub day? Enter the raffle to win a copy over at BookishFirst starting on December 4.
On shelves: January 23
In David Putnam’s new novel, Bruno Johnson is a detective working for the LA County Sheriff, and he is not thrilled with his new assignment. There may or may not be rogue police officers at work, and it’s Bruno’s job to find out what’s happening. To do this, he’ll have to insinuate himself into a circle of officers considered suspicious, and he could end up in the highly uncomfortable position of arresting a peer. Before long, Bruno finds himself in danger as his search draws him closer to the answers he seeks. Meanwhile, his personal life is turned upside down by the revelation that he has a child. We know you’ll have trouble putting this one down.
On shelves: February 6
Blast from the past
Alice Hill endured a brutal incident when she was a young teenager. Two twins stabbed her, nearly killing her, and said they did it because they were commanded to by someone named Mister Tender. Mister Tender, creepily enough, was the protagonist in the novels Alice’s father wrote. Now, Alice is 28 and living in New Hampshire under a new name and generally getting along fairly well. But then, something strange comes in the mail: an unpublished book in the Mister Tender series, along with a note from her murdered father. She is in danger, and she must act quickly if she wants to survive.
On shelves: February 13