The Women of Summer Suspense

Forget the boys of summer—it’s the women of suspense who are packing some serious heat this season of the sunscreen.

First up is Megan Abbott’s highly anticipated You Will Know Me (Little, Brown and Company), a penetrating glimpse into the world of competitive gymnastics. Katie and Eric Knox have sacrificed all semblances of normalcy so that their “extraordinary” teenage daughter, Devon, can fulfill her promise as an Olympic hopeful. Their seemingly tight-knit but loose-lipped community is rocked by the suspicious death of a beloved pretty boy, and the resulting upheaval—in which nobody is above suspicion—proves that the ties that bind a family together can also be the ones that cause them to snap apart.

The Women of Summer SuspenseAbbott’s books are hard to categorize, but terms like page-turning and unputdownable are pretty much a given and transcend genre. One thing she does brilliantly, among many, is to reveal the angst of female adolescence and how that influences the actions, or inactions, of her characters. Another is her almost voyeuristic exploration of ambition and what people will or will not do in pursuit of a dream. Though Devon is initially shown to be a machine of sorts, the author reveals the heart that beats behind her muscular chest in a sharp narrative that unravels to dizzying effect. This underlying humanity is a source of conflict for all those who are discerning enough to see it—including the reader.

Also available is Wendy Walker’s All Is Not Forgotten (St. Martin’s Press), which is currently being developed for film by Reese Witherspoon’s production company. Though suitable for beach reading, the premise is a weighty one: High schooler Jenny Kramer is sexually assaulted at a party and then given a controversial drug that medically erases her memory of the rape. With her attacker on the loose, she and her family—mother, Charlotte, who is consumed by the need to move past the trauma, and father, Tom, who is consumed by the need for vengeance—enter therapy in the hopes of working through their damaging yet disparate feelings.

This is a departure for the author, whose previous novels have been works of women’s fiction—and the risk largely pays off. Walker adeptly captures the nuances of a family in crisis and the ways that secrets become insidious within that unit. Under the guidance of psychiatrist Alan Forrester, who has his own murky agenda, Jenny and her parents are led down a slow path toward the truth. Or some version of it. But with truth come consequences, and sometimes they can be deadly. While the whole unreliable narrator thing has been done (and done again), it’s the potent mix of style and substance—including Walker’s informed portrayal of PTSD—that makes this book entirely worthy of remembrance.

Finally, the prolific Wendy Corsi Staub returns with Blue Moon: Mundy’s Landing Book Two (William Morrow)—the second in a chillingly atmospheric trilogy that launched with Blood Red. On the hundredth anniversary of the infamous Sleeping Beauty Murders—three unidentified girls found dead in bed—scads of amateur detectives and news media descend on the small town for its annual “Mundypalooza” celebration, all hoping to solve the crime and claim a generous monetary prize. Among them is a copycat killer who is hell-bent on revisiting the sins of the past while simultaneously unleashing a reign of terror on a new generation.

Annabelle Bingham, wife and mother, has just moved into a Second Empire Victorian located at 46 Bridge Street—where the second Sleeping Beauty victim was once discovered in an upstairs bedroom, her throat slit. Though Annabelle has the sense that she’s being watched by somebody lurking in the shadows, her survival instincts are distracted by an anxiety-ridden son, an overworked husband, and a multitude of household chores that all demand her attention. But when the first “Murder House” becomes the scene of a grisly homicide, she can’t help but suspect that her home—and her family—may be next. Staub, who excels at depicting horrors of the home and hearth, delivers a sinister story that alternates between centuries and characters. Blue Moon will satisfy readers as a standalone while also inspiring an undeniable desire for the next, and final, chapter. Fortunately, Bone White is due out next year.

So lather up, dear readers … because you’re about to feel the burn.