If your reading life could use a little more dark and twisted, you’ve come to the right place. Murder and Mayhem is a new recurring feature in which I talk about some of the mysteries and thrillers I’ve read recently. Dust off your magnifying glass, don your deerstalker cap, and get ready to fly through these page-turning reads.

This time around I’ve got paranoia in a biology lab, murder and intrigue in a posh, post-WWI veterans’ club, and a journey from a psych ward into the wilderness!

Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

Nobody does creepy like Megan Abbott! She’s the master of scenes that make your skin crawl. Even when nothing is obviously amiss, with each page there’s a growing sense that something is wrong, characters aren’t what they seem, and the version of events on the page may not be what actually happened. And don’t ever trust her narrators—in this case, Kit, a high-achieving academic working in a lab. When Diane, a person from Kit’s past, joins the lab, Kit is completely thrown. She and Diane have what you might call a complicated history, one that Kit decidedly does not want to revisit. When Kit finds out she and Diane will be competing for a spot on a prestigious research study run by their enigmatic and mercurial mentor, Kit’s paranoia balloons out of control, with disastrous and bloody consequences. And if you’re not sold on tension alone, Abbott also provides a lot to mull over with respect to women in the sciences and what it takes to earn a spot and keep it. Give Me Your Hand is dark, disturbing, and delightfully feminist.

A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang

Charming and delightful aren’t necessarily words I expect to ascribe to murder mysteries, but I was thoroughly smitten by this historical novel. It’s not a cozy mystery, in fact it deals with some heavy themes of war and PTSD, but Huang’s amateur detective Eric Peterkin has a quiet wit about him that you won’t be able to resist. The son of a white father and Chinese mother, Peterkin is sometimes forced to the outside of British high society despite his service in World War I, and thus his membership in an elite club for veterans is a prized feather in his cap. When a murder takes place at his beloved club and the police investigation doesn’t seem quite on the level, Peterkin decides to do a little investigating on his own, with the help of an irreverent, tarot-reading friend and his plucky sister. The historical detail, the well-crafted plot, and the satisfying denouement would be enough for any mystery lover, but the layers to Peterkin’s character make me hopeful this will be the first in a long series. Don’t miss the lengthy afterword, in which Huang gives a fascinating glimpse into his inspiration and creative process.

Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia

Mejia writes the kind of thrillers that are fun to read as long as you don’t think about them too hard. Maya is a newly-christened speech therapist working in a Duluth mental health facility. Her newest case is Lucas, a 19-year-old man who disappeared with his father into the Boundary Waters as a child and wasn’t seen again until he was caught robbing a store a few days ago. Since his capture he’s been combative and uncommunicative, but for some reason he’s willing to talk to Maya, who has her own baggage, including a mother who abandoned her. Perhaps she sees something in Lucas that makes her want to help him, even if that means breaking all the boundaries between clinician and patient. I say perhaps because I never quite understood any of the characters’ motivations. I also have some questions about how a man who, from age 9 to 19, interacted only with his father is able to interact in a normal way in an adult romantic relationship. You’d think that level of isolation would make a person weirder. See what I mean about everything falling apart under scrutiny? Anyway, if you’re willing to suspend your disbelief, this is a fun page-turner of a novel with some genuinely suspenseful scenes toward the end, and the rugged Boundary Waters setting is well drawn. With regards to Atria Books and Netgalley for the review copy.

AuthorTaryn Pierson

Audio books have improved my life times 1,000. They make boring or annoying tasks go by in the blink of an eye. Now, when I’m riding the exercise bike or swiping on mascara, I’m also reading at the same time. Such luxury! If you’re not on the audio book train yet, you need to get on board!

Without further ado, here are some audio books I’ve had in my ears recently. I’ve got a memoir about overcoming anxiety, a gay rom-com that will make you die of cuteness, and a dual timeline historical fiction with dashes of romance and mystery.

Okay Fine Whatever by Courtenay Hameister

Who knew anxiety could be so funny? Okay, Fine, Whatever is my feel-good memoir of the year. Hameister’s chronicle of her efforts to be brave, try new things, and push her own boundaries makes for a life-affirming reading experience, and going with the audio version is a no-brainer since she’s spent most of her career in public radio. A big chunk of the book is spent on Hameister’s misadventures in sex and dating, so be warned if polyamory and sex clubs are too eyebrow-raising for you, but I really enjoyed reading about a single woman in her forties with no children living a full and rich life, navigating her career and circle of friends. It made me think about how rarely women that age are featured at all, especially outside the context of marriage and parenting. And as a gal with anxiety demons of her own, I related super hard and was rooting for her all the way.

Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

It’s a good thing it’s not possible to die of cuteness, because if it were, this book would have put me in grave danger. The setup, like with many romantic comedies, is a little tortured--Simon has been exchanging anonymous emails with another guy in his grade at school. They each know the other is gay, but neither of them is out yet, which is why they don’t use their real names or identifying details in their notes to each other. One day another student inadvertently finds out about Simon’s secret pen pal and decides to blackmail him. I couldn’t believe how suspenseful this book was! As Simon was going to class, rehearsing for the school play, hanging out with his friends, and rolling his eyes at his overzealous parents, all I could think about was WHO his mystery guy was going to turn out to be. Beyond that, though, there’s complicated friendships, supportive siblings, imperfect but loving parents, and it all felt very realistic to me, including Simon himself, who is a great kid but far from a paragon of virtue. Now excuse me while I go watch the movie Love, Simon over and over for the rest of my life.

Next Year in Havana by Chanel Cleeton

Alternating timelines can be hard to follow in audio, but I took the risk on this one and I’m so glad I did. I always have a big backlog of print books I want to read, so if there’s a book I’m really anticipating I can get to it so much faster in audio. Next Year in Havana is about Marisol, a journalist, who grew up hearing tales of her grandmother Elisa’s life in Cuba before the revolution forced their family into exile in Miami. Now Elisa has died and Marisol is on her way to Cuba to scatter her grandmother’s ashes and set foot for the first time on the land that shaped her family’s destiny. Along the way, she meets her grandmother’s closest friends, learns about Cuba’s complicated history, falls into an unexpected romance, and discovers some long-buried secrets of her grandmother’s. In between Marisol’s chapters, we go back in time to hear Elisa’s story firsthand. The transitions are seamless because there are two different voice actors playing grandmother and granddaughter, so you don’t need to worry about losing track of whose chapter you’re on. It’s rare to find historical fiction that makes you feel like you’ve truly traveled to a different time, with characters that are so real you can’t help but empathize with them, and Chanel Cleeton has done both beautifully here. I was enthralled.

AuthorTaryn Pierson