Wilder Harlow is a weird, lonely teenager when his warring parents bring him to a New England seaside town for the summer. There, he meets the best friends he will ever have, Harper and Nat; they spend their days swimming and boating, and talking about the mysterious Dagger Man who haunts the bedrooms of the town’s children at night. But as they swim, and fall in love, and dare one another, they discover a horror far worse than the Dagger Man’s shadowy presence – a murder that will follow Wilder for decades. “There’s a look in her eye like she knows, somewhere deep down, that her time will be cut short,” he says later. “It’s strangely common, I have found, with photographs of the dead. It’s there in their faces – what’s to come. But of course that can’t be true. It’s us who are left behind who see it. Who put it there.”
Looking Glass Sound (Viper), the latest thriller from The Last House on Needless Street author Catriona Ward, opens as a coming-of-age story told through Wilder’s unpublished memoir of his childhood. But it becomes something much deeper and stranger when we meet Wilder in adulthood and learn about stories layered on top of stories, horrors piled on horrors. Eerie and disturbing, it is another darkly atmospheric slice of the literary horror/thriller genre that Ward is making her own.
Will Dean’s The Last Thing to Burn is one of the most terrifying thrillers I’ve read in years, so I couldn’t wait to get my hands on his latest, The Last Passenger (Hodder & Stoughton). The premise is excellent: Caz and her boyfriend, Pete, board a luxury ocean liner for a trip across the Atlantic to New York. But when Caz wakes up the next morning, the huge vessel is entirely empty. “Not a single human being on any of the windswept decks or promenades,” she says. “Nobody waiting by the lifeboats. The breeze blows my hair over my face and I start to panic. It’s as if I’m trapped on a runaway train. No, this is worse. The RMS Atlantica is steaming out into the ocean and I am the only person on board.”
Supernatural explanations aside, this seems an impossible trick for a writer to pull off satisfactorily, but Dean, who also writes the excellent Tuva Moodyson crime series, makes it work. I won’t tell you how, because it would spoil this mile-a-minute, bite-your-nails-to-the-quick ride of a novel, but I will tell you to trust this writer, because I guarantee you’ll enjoy where he takes you. Extra kudos for the final twist, which brought me great pleasure.
Fans of intelligent, heart-stopping thrillers should pick up the latest in the Casey Benedict series from Holly Watt, The End of the Game (Raven Books). Watt is an investigative journalist who worked on stories including MPs’ expenses and the Panama Papers, and her experience makes her heroine Casey, top reporter at the London Post, leap off the page. This time round, Casey is at the races when she sees a man being chased and steps in to save his life. She then finds herself investigating a sophisticated gambling operation that stretches around the world. This is clever, intriguing, fast-moving writing, with a protagonist who won’t let go of a story. The final chase scene, involving a chair lift across snowy mountains, is one of the best I’ve read.
Taylor Adams is having a lot of fun in The Last Word (Hodder & Stoughton), in which Emma, “slumming on Amazon’s bargain and free listings”, discovers it was a very bad idea to give the latest cheap ebook she’s bought, schlock horror Murder Mountain by HG Kane, a one-star review. Kane responds, asking her to take it down: “I spent six months writing Murder Mountain. It took you just a few seconds to type that hateful review and tarnish all my hard work.”
House-sitting on a remote beach on the Washington coast, Emma refuses. Then, on her screen, “another message from the author – now tinged with menace. ‘I won’t ask you again.’” Emma starts hearing strange noises at night; sees a figure in her bedroom; finds the internet down and the phone lines cut. It’s not hard to guess where this is going, but Adams, author of No Exit, is great on building suspense as Emma – a troubled, tough and intriguing protagonist – tries to batten down the hatches in her lonely hideaway. Definitely five stars (not that I’d dare to give it any less).
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