Review | Five new thrillers to kick off your fall reading


For a fall getaway of the imagination, here are five novels offering a murder-and-mayhem tour across New York, Los Angeles, rural Oklahoma, the Northwoods of Minnesota and an enclave of Vietnamese emigrants near Sydney. As a bonus, there’s also time travel. The Oklahoma trip takes you back to the Dust Bowl on a steam locomotive during the Depression. The journey to Australia lands you in the 1990s.

The first stop may be the most bracing. Megan Goldin’s “Stay Awake” (St. Martin’s) opens in the back of a cab crossing the Brooklyn Bridge in the dead of night. Passenger Liv Reese groggily awakens to discover that her wallet and phone are gone. So is all memory of the previous two years of her life, and now her roommate and boyfriend seem to have vanished without a trace. Oh, and there’s a bloody knife in her pocket.

From then on, the pace rarely flags, even as Goldin adds a second narrative when rookie police detective Darcy Halliday arrives at a murder scene. We know these two threads will converge, but Goldin — writing in sharp, uncluttered prose — cleverly keeps us guessing as to how and when, and with what consequences, as she steers us smoothly to the conclusion.

New books to read in September

Onward to L.A., where, in the tradition of Raymond Chandler, versatile writer Jonathan Ames (novelist, essayist, screenwriter) offers “The Wheel of Doll” (Mulholland, Sept. 6) a contemporary noir with graceful writing and mordant humor. Private eye Happy Doll checks many of the requisite boxes for brooding introspection — troubled childhood, ex-Navy, ex-cop — but Ames updates this archetype by making Doll “an armchair Buddhist” who tokes up more than he drinks.

Driving the plot is Doll’s search for a missing woman on behalf of her estranged daughter, with the twist that the missing woman is one of Doll’s former lovers. This is Ames’s second novel featuring Doll, but you don’t need to have read the first to get the full flavor of the character or his milieu. The detective’s sardonic outlook is as important as the plotting, and the comforts of his narrative voice become even more vital as bodies begin to pile up.

Laurie Loewenstein takes us to another time and place: the small town of Vermillion, Okla., in the Dust Bowl in late 1935. “Funeral Train” (Kaylie Jones Books, Oct. 4) is her second installment featuring town sheriff Temple Jennings, but it stands solidly on its own as he investigates possible sabotage after an westbound train derails nearby, killing more than a dozen people, most of them in the shabbily built car designated for Black passengers.

Loewenstein handles the investigatory details well enough, but the book’s richer rewards are its finely rendered portraits of small-town life under trying circumstances. She creates a vivid cast of gossips and cranks, loners and busy bodies. Some are lovable, some are not. All are connected to the secrets that lie just beneath the surface of the town’s dusty streets.

Next we reach the far north of Minnesota, where William Kent Krueger’s “Fox Creek” (Atria) is a wilderness survival tale as much as it is a mystery, and that’s a good thing. This is the 19th book featuring Cork O’Connor, the part-Irish, part-Anishinaabe private investigator with such a light case load that he’s often flipping burgers at the town diner.

O’Connor sets off into the woods in pursuit of a trio of shady fellows who, in turn, are pursuing O’Connor’s wife, Rainy, and two others, including Rainy’s hardy but aging uncle, Henry Meloux, an Ojibwe healer and mystic. In this atmospheric novel, the pursuers and their prey tramp past chilly lakes beneath snow flurries and starry skies. Woven through it all is a creeping sense that, for everyone, time may be short, as we begin to discern that a deeper conspiracy of more remote forces may be driving the chase.

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Our last stop is the one that may linger the longest in your memory, because it’s that powerful. “All That’s Left Unsaid” (Morrow, Sept. 13), by Tracey Lien, is set in 1996 in Cabramatta, a community of Vietnamese refugees on the outskirts of Sydney, where tradition and family ties are being tested by the pressure to assimilate and the ravages of a heroin epidemic.

Twenty-something Ky Tran, who has escaped Cabramatta and her controlling parents for a life as an up-and-coming reporter at a Melbourne daily, returns home for the funeral of her younger brother, Denny, a model student who was beaten to death on the night of his high school graduation. Witnesses don’t want to talk about it, and the police don’t much care, so Tran looks for answers, which requires an exploration of her own past, and that of her family and friends. Lien’s debut is moving and beautifully rendered.

Dan Fesperman, a former foreign correspondent for the Baltimore Sun, is the author of more than a dozen suspense novels, including, most recently, “Winter Work.”

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