Buckle up, crime fiction aficionados: It’s not too late to pore over a few unputdownable beach reads this summer. Acclaimed authors Laura Lippman, Megan Abbott, Megan Collins, and Paula Hawkins all have new thrillers out this summer, and they’re full of criminal deeds and riveting twists. Beyond their untimely deaths and creeping scares, each novel is rife with intergenerational trauma and deep-seated family issues that derail the main characters’ lives in agonizing ways. These thrillers are also emotionally affecting, featuring copious angst that doesn’t dial down the anxiety or suspense.
Laura Lippman doesn’t waste any time amping up the disquietude in her latest novel. In Dream Girl (June 22, William Morrow), 61-year-old novelist Gerry Andersen, who’s moved back to his hometown of Baltimore, lives in a fancy penthouse apartment. After an accident leaves him bedridden and downing Ambien, he begins having hallucinations of the leading lady of his own popular book titled, yes, Dream Girl. Gerry gets letters, calls, and in-person visits from Aubrey, but no one believes him, not his night nurse, Aileen, or his assistant, Victoria. Told in three different timelines—from the 1960s to the present day—Dream Girl stages a fascinating reckoning of sorts for Gerry. Lippman uses her dubious hero, who lacks self-awareness, to comment on relevant affairs of the last few years, particularly the #MeToo movement. The psychological thriller zeroes in on pivotal moments of Gerry’s life and how his childhood with an absent father and sad single mother shaped his career and interactions with women.
Lippman is best known for her Tess Monaghan series about a reporter-turned-private investigator. Tess makes a cameo in Dream Girl, but the story is focused on Gerry’s possibly deteriorating state of mind, unraveling sordid details of his past at a satisfyingly measured pace. “In a world that is speeding up, novelists were obligated to make people slow down,” Lippman writes. The sentiment is also apropos to Megan Abbott’s The Turnout (August 3, G.P. Putnam’s Sons). Abbott tackled cheerleading and gymnastics in previous novels like Dare Me and You Will Know Me, but now she ventures into the intensely competitive world of ballet.
Abbott is in no hurry for any violent deaths to occur in The Turnout; though no crime is committed until over 200 pages in, it’s still riveting. Sisters Dara and Marie Durant run their mother’s ballet studio with the help of Dara’s husband, Charlie. As dancers who perfected ballet starting from a young age, the three understand the form’s complexities. Their students are gearing up for the annual Nutcracker show when an accident brings a contractor into the mix, one who is determined to pull the trio apart. Marie grows fixated on him as Dara attempts in vain to kick out the messy man they’ve invited in. Abbott’s writing is crisp, though The Turnout’s dialogue and Dara’s innermost thoughts are rendered a little too succinctly. The book is very much about the trauma passed down from parents to their children. Dara and Marie’s died in a car crash years ago, and their memory haunts the walls of the studio and their rickety home, careening the siblings toward mayhem.
The Family Plot (August 17, Atria) from Megan Collins delves even deeper into intergenerational trauma. Collins has an affinity for writing volatile family drama into her crime thrillers. Her first two books, Behind The Red Door and The Winter Sister, are emotionally turbulent and focus heavily on character development as opposed to the mystery itself, which helps in making her narrators compelling. The Family Plot doesn’t have the same poignancy as her previous books, but the novel works because of its unique setting and action. It takes place on a secluded island (think of last year’s The Guest List by Lucy Foley) where siblings Charlie, Tate, Andy, and Dahlia Lighthouse grew up with emotionally abusive parents devoted to teaching them about true crime from a young age. Their homeschooling involved learning about serial killer victims—each sibling is named after one—and performing “honorings” for them, their early lives further marred by the island’s own serial killer.
The story centers on 26-year-old Dahlia’s return to the family mansion after her father has died. She hopes her twin brother, Andy, who ran away at 16 and hasn’t been heard from since, might return, too. Instead, the family finds his body buried in their dad’s plot. Like the female protagonists of Behind The Red Door and The Winter Sister, Dahlia unravels one secret after another, slowly learning of her brother’s actions before his death. Unfortunately, the gritty, mysterious story is bogged down by Collins’ surprising repetitiveness. She spins her wheels in recounting Dahlia’s tight-knit bond with her brother, sticking her with a one-note personality that’s arrested in a time when her beloved twin was still alive. While Collins’ character-driven writing isn’t as gut-punching this time around, her exploration of the larger themes of toxic relationships, and why people stay in them, is enticing.
The inability to escape codependent relationships runs throughout A Slow Fire Burning (August 31, Riverhead) from Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl On The Train. The aptly named novel is a creeping psychological thriller about entanglement and strained family relations that spiral into viciousness. The plot is set into motion when a young man’s body is discovered inside a boat on a London canal, sparking an intense police investigation. The story is told from the point of view of three women in the man’s life: his Aunt Carla, one-night stand Laura, and neighbor Miriam. The tragic events of the women’s lives, once revealed, eventually intertwine in astounding ways. The slow burn allows each of them to meditate on their sorrow and seething rage. Carla mourns her long-dead child and recently deceased sister, while Laura is unfathomably lonely and frequently judged because of her limp. Miriam is the revelatory hook, a solitary character whose involvement with the others shakes the book out of its lagging periods.
Hawkins submerges readers into the troubled lives of her leading ladies, including Laura’s older friend Irene, but her tendency to overcomplicate her stories shows up here, too. She renders heartache well, but the writing is knottier than it needs to be, especially because there’s a book within the book. Luckily, Hawkins shapes the three women’s stories in a way that brings their simmering fears and grief to the surface. It takes time to delve into their familial history, but the payoff is worth it. The dead man’s dark childhood and relationship with his mother and Aunt Carla propel the novel’s disastrous trajectory, and Laura’s own past is brutally sad, but the thrilling backstories make it easy to get attached to all the women.