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September 14, 2023

3 Thrillers to Get Your Heart Rate Up

by MK French

The weather is cooling, and it is the perfect time to curl up in a comfy chair with a hot beverage and a book you can't put down. 

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The Graveyard Shift by Maria Lewis

book cover of thriller The Graveyard Shift by Maria Lewis
September 2023; Datura Books; 978-1915523068
ebook, print (328 pages); thriller

Tinsel Munroe has a radio show called The Graveyard Shift where she talks about cult cinema. It doesn't pay much, her relationship is strained due to her hours, and she doesn't seem on track to get a prime time slot until someone is murdered on air. While Tinsel thought it was a prank, police informed her that it was an actual murder. Her true-crime-obsessed sister Pandora is fascinated, especially as bodies continue collecting and a growing audience tunes in to listen. Tinsel and Pandora team up with Detective James to find the connection between her and the culprit.

Tinsel and her sister Pandora were such great characters when we met them. First, it's Tinsel with the boyfriend who tries to make everything about him and doesn't care enough to ask how she's dealing with the first murder. The police have a better demeanor when interacting with her, as a matter of fact. Her sister is supportive and snarky and puts all of her true crime blog instincts toward figuring out what's happening to help Tinsel. Detective James and the staff at the radio station round out the cast. Drama escalates when there are more killings and stalker behavior in the area, and they all try to figure out who it could be when the ties seem to be Tinsel herself. She very much doesn't want to be the kind of victim that runs and hides from the killer, and is reasonable enough to accept police protection. It doesn't deter the killer, upping the ante and drama as the chapters progress.

I utterly devoured the book and the investigation, rooting for Tinsel and Detective James to get together. He's a decent man and a good investigator, trying to be an ethical officer when his feelings develop for Tinsel. The finale is a dramatic rollercoaster, and I was in shock at the story. It's very well done and kept me hooked and turning pages constantly. We find out who the killer is and why, and I feel terrible for the collateral damage along the way.

Buy The Graveyard Shift at Amazon

The Traitor by Ava Glass

book cover of psychological thriller The Traitor by Ava Glass
September 2023; Bantam; 978-0593725511
audio, ebook, print (336 pages); psychological thriller

When an MI6 operative is found dead inside a suitcase in his apartment, Emma Makepeace and her handler know it's an assassination and message in one. He had been investigating Russian oligarchs based in London. He was certain the two were spies working with a third man, but MI6 told him to drop the investigation. Emma intends to pick up where he left off and goes undercover on a yacht set to sail from the Côte d’Azur to Monaco. If Emma’s caught, she'll be just as dead as her predecessor.

Drug running and weapons trading are deadly enough, but the possibility of chemical weapons is an additional risk no one wants to take.  Emma is by herself with the thinnest of covers, and the Russian on the boat as well as his bodyguard are suspicious from the start. She has to dodge them on the yacht as well as be alert, make connections, and find as much information as possible. The tension remains high, escalating with every setback. The final third is especially tense, as it ratchets up. There's not only the risk if the two Russians discover who Emma really is, but also the traitor working with them. To be hidden in such a way means he's highly placed in the intelligence community... someone Emma knows. It's a chilling thought, one that she keeps pushing past to get to the truth. I don't think I could make the same choices that she does, even if I had the skill.

This thriller is engrossing, and Emma is very human along the way. A spy's life is one of lies, after all, and we see the very real regrets she has for the roles she must play. Sacrifices must be made, not just during the job, but in the life she can't have outside of work. She's dedicated to her country, her job, and the truth. Even when second-guessed and doubting herself, she keeps pushing through. It's admirable and makes for a terrific read.

Buy The Traitor at Amazon

The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin

book cover of psychological thriller The Stranger Upstairs by Lisa M. Matlin
September 2023; Bantam; 978-0593599952
audio, ebook, print (288 pages); psychological thriller

Sarah Slade buys an infamous murder house to renovate for fun. Renovating Black Wood House should be great blog content and a distraction from her failing marriage. Everything goes wrong, including bizarre accidents, threatening notes, and unexplained footsteps in the attic. Sarah's life is out of control, and the house has a deadly legacy that's only just begun.

From the start, Sarah is a deeply unpleasant person. She faked her therapist credentials, enjoys the misery and suffering of others, and is incredibly selfish. The neighbors avoid her or seem outright hostile, and the noise in the attic and notes around the house heighten the creepy factor. Her husband is essentially a nonentity to her, and the secrets she keeps dribble out. There are also blog posts and news reports interspersed that add to the mystery of the house and Sarah's past, which she tries to guard even against herself. Once she starts opening up to a coworker, we begin to see more about her past and why the house means so much to her.

The explanation for the creeping mystery of the house is a mundane but scary one. It happens often, and Sarah became increasingly unhinged as a result of that influence. She says she has a rotten core like the house, but it's more that she had a poor sense of self and no place to belong. It doesn't help that the residents of Beacon were so insular and secretive, increasing her paranoia. The closing adds more drama and mystery to the house as well. As much as Sarah was an awful person, she was incredibly compelling, drawing me into the very end.

Buy The Stranger Upstairs at Amazon

Born and raised in New York City, M.K. French started writing stories when very young, dreaming of different worlds and places to visit. She always had an interest in folklore, fairy tales, and the macabre, which has definitely influenced her work. She currently lives in the Midwest with her husband, three young children, and a golden retriever.

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