There’s only one more month of summer but that doesn’t mean you have to stop adding books to your to-be-read stack. Even if you didn’t get a chance to travel or take a vacation more exotic than a deck chair in your backyard, this month’s books offer you the chance to be transported across oceans and time zones. There are new series installments from well-known authors like John Burdett and Sophie Hannah, along with a debut novel that’s already received high praise in its native country and a collection of short stories featuring a character who’s become a staple of the genre. So grab a glass of something cool and get ready to make the most out of your summer reads.
The Bangkok Asset
John Burdett (Knopf, August 4)
In his first Thailand-set mystery featuring police detective Sonchai Jitpleecheep since 2012’s Vulture Peak, Burdett returns with a tale that’s both personal for the Bangkok cop and all encompassing. The crime at hand is the murder of a young teenage girl whose head has apparently been dislocated by sheer force from her body. Making the case even stranger and more harrowing for Sonchai is a cryptic message the killer left behind in the girl’s blood: he knows the identity of Sonchai’s biological father, something Sonchai himself does not. The body count mounts when, sometime later, Sonchai witnesses a woman being chucked from a boat to drown in the tumultuous Chao Phraya River. Adding an interesting technological undercurrent to the story, a video soon surfaces of another of the boat’s passengers swimming to shore and disappearing. While Burdett’s books may not be for the faint of heart (or those looking for a neat, happy ending), Asset is a wild ride and a must-read for Jitpleecheep fans who’ve missed the Bangkok detective in his multi-year absence from the page.
Trust No One
Paul Cleave (Atria, August 4)
Cleave’s latest psychological thriller (after 2014’s Five Minutes Alone) will have readers rushing to do a set of Sudoku puzzles and a week’s worth of New York Times crosswords—anything to sharpen their minds and stave off the mental decline that claimed the memory of Trust’s unreliable narrator, New Zealander Jerry Grey. Suffering from Alzheimer’s, Jerry thinks he’s at the police station telling a policewoman about committing his first murder. Turns out that the “policewoman” is actually his daughter and the only “crimes” he allegedly committed were on the page: before his memory failed him, Jerry was a crime writer. The death of the woman that feels so real to Jerry, so much so that he’s sure he’s the killer, is actually the plot of his first novel. Now Jerry lives in an assisted-living facility but was found wandering the streets. But Jerry isn’t satisfied with the explanation that his vivid memory of the brutal stabbing of the beautiful Suzanne was simply something he created for a book—he thinks he murdered her before he wrote the book. Cleave makes it difficult to tell truth from fiction and memory from the last misfirings of a failing brain. This one will keep you guessing until the end.
Woman with a Secret
Sophie Hannah (Morrow, August 4)
Mismatched but married British cops Charlotte “Charlie” Zailer and Simon Waterhouse return in Hannah’s latest maze-like whodunit (after 2015’s The Carrier). As is typical in a Hannah thriller, a seemingly unrelated event unfolds—here it’s the harried life of Nicki Clements, a mother of two who’s been unfaithful to her husband—parallel to a murder investigation. This time around, the victim is a particularly unpleasant journalist, Damon Blundy. A message scrawled at the crime scene—“he is no less dead”—is the perfect puzzler for Simon as he and the rest of the team dig into Blundy’s life and discover that the list of people the man offended is far longer than those who counted him as a friend. Despite his unpleasant manner, Blundy appeared to have no trouble attracting female attention; his list of exes includes a former British MP with whom he sparred bitterly on Twitter, and, Simon discovers, Nicki Clements. Or so she thinks. Hannah plays with the idea of online anonymity and the havoc it can cause, perfectly illustrated by Clements’s belief that the man with whom she became obsessed online was perhaps not the famous, and now very dead, journalist he claimed to be. The relationship between Charlie and Simon draws readers in book after book and this latest installment is no exception.
Julia Heaberlin (Bantam, August 11)
Heaberlin turns the standard serial killer tale on its head with this provocative tale of survival, her third novel after 2013’s Lie Still. Twenty years earlier, 16-year-old Texan Tessa Cartwright was kidnapped and buried, barely alive, with the bones of the killer’s other victims. The girls became known collectively as the Black-Eyed Susans because of the flowers growing near the grave. A man was tried and convicted for the crimes, due in large part to Tessa’s testimony, though she didn’t remember anything significant about her abductor. Now the mother of a teenage daughter herself, Tessa is approached by a death-penalty attorney who’s trying desperately to get his client’s death sentence overturned or commuted to life in prison, and he needs Tessa’s help. Along with a top forensic scientist, they’re trying to identify the other victims and find evidence that the man Tessa helped put away is innocent. With doubts herself and lingering guilt about her testimony—Heaberlin weaves in chapters from the past that illustrate how the teenager’s life crumbled after her ordeal, particularly after she started seeing a therapist—Tessa agrees to help. Now that she’s convinced that the man who kidnapped her and killed the other Black-Eyed Susans is still out there, Tessa is afraid he’ll come back and finish the job. Full of unexpected poignancy and nail-biting suspense, Susans is a book to read with the lights on.
The Beat Goes On: The Complete Rebus Stories
Ian Rankin (Little, Brown, August 11)
From his first days as a young Detective Constable almost two decades ago to his later adventures as a seasoned Detective Inspector, Edinburgh’s John Rebus has made his mark on the Scottish town he calls home. This collection of short stories from Rankin, an undisputed master of the genre and one of the forefathers of Tartan Noir, is a treasure trove of the kind of cases that drew so many readers to the irascible detective over the years: dark, twisty, and cerebral. Beginning with “Dead and Buried,” when Rebus is but a green DC, and moving through a career marked with crime and heartache, the collection is a must for any Rebus fan and would be an excellent introduction to the character for anyone new to Rankin. Nothing here will spoil the enjoyment of the series proper so it’s perfectly acceptable to read a short story or two and then settle back in a cloud of Rebus-scented nostalgia and re-read the series, starting with 1987’s Knots and Crosses. Rankin is an author who never goes out of style and Rebus, like fine wine, only gets better with age.
Smaller and Smaller Circles F.H. Batacan (Soho Crime, August 18)
Already the recipient of the prestigious Philippine National Book award, this harrowing debut novel features a pair of Jesuit priests in Manila who are on the trail of a sadistic serial killer who’s preying on young boys. The bodies of the victims are found in Payatas, a festering dump where the city’s poorest scavenge and young children are often put to work digging for their family’s only source of food. Father Gus Saenz, who’s also a forensic anthropologist, is asked to consult on the case and in turn requests the help of his younger colleague, Father Jerome Lucero, a psychologist. The pair must first identify the boys, all of whom have been mutilated almost beyond recognition, and then try and formulate a profile that explains why someone would wish the children harm. Woven in the fast-paced crime story is an exploration of the role of the Catholic Church and the power it wields. This first installment in a proposed series is as dark, gritty, and absorbing as any American noir and shouldn’t be missed.