Officially, there’s still a month of summer left — but who are we kidding? As August slouches into its muggy and languorous last act here in the Northeast, and the start of the school year throws its looming shadow over a reader’s beach blanket or poolside chaise longue, the heat is on to pick a final thriller or two to lead us into fall. Here are nine good ones, with “thriller” broadly defined to include true crime narratives, a historical look at fear-mongering in American culture and a science fiction tale translated from the Korean, as well as straightforward novels about serial killers and noirish heists, all of them smart enough to throw into your backpack once the semester is underway. Happy reading.
This novel by a pseudonymous Korean science fiction writer (and translated by Anton Hur.) envisions a space elevator built on a fictional Asian island by a multinational corporation. Corporate dominance and environmental havoc inspire protest and armed resistance, in a fast-paced cyberpunk story where agency and identity are always in doubt.
In this twisted psychological thriller, a motherless 12-year-old Catholic school student in 1980s New Zealand grows increasingly enamored of her glamorous and alluring new teacher, even as her classroom becomes the target of a series of mysterious thefts.
Europa | Paperback, $18
Murphy’s whip-smart thriller is set in a coastal village near Cape Cod, where a young lawyer named Jack makes a quiet living hiding people, typically for shady reasons. But an old flame arrives with a plan involving a stash of diamonds, and Jack’s life takes a complicated (and unlucky) turn.
O’Connell brings literary flourish and a philosophical bent to this investigation of an infamous and confounding Irish murder case, elevating his true-crime narrative into an exhilarating, elegant meditation on the ultimate unknowability of the forces that impelled the killer to commit his gruesome deeds.
Doubleday | $29
An ex-conquistador in Spanish-ruled, 16th-century Mexico is asked to hunt down an Indigenous prophet in this novel by a leading writer in Spain, splendidly translated by Katie Whittemore. The epic search stretches across much of the continent and, as the author bends time and history, lasts centuries.
Open Letter | Paperback, $18.95
Bishop’s gripping psychological thriller involves an emerging writer, J.B., whose husband mysteriously dies on a cruise. As she herself becomes a suspect, J.B. examines her life with increasing honesty and nuance, while trying to sort fact from fiction among her memories.
Black Cat | Paperback, $18
Born to wealth, Marguerite Harrison had a terrific cover story: international socialite. In fact, she was a spy who used charm, courage and language skills to conduct intelligence in some of the most dangerous spots on the globe.
Doubleday | $30
Roaming from the Freemasons to QAnon, this tour of American moral panics amid social upheaval and downturn is a bracing reminder that conspiratorial thinking is nothing new.
What do we really know about the people around us, and how might we be dangerously wrong? This expertly paced novel follows three female characters, each drawn in different ways to the same murderous man.