Merchants of Menace: Two Librarians Review Mystery/Thrillers

Merchants of Menace banner art

Looking for a murder mystery to get you in the spirit of Halloween? Overwhelmed by the selection of thriller mysteries at your branch? Adult librarians Assh and Rachael have teamed up to review and suggest some of our latest and greatest horror-thriller-mysteries to get your pulse racing.

 

The Cabin at the End of the WorldThe Cabin at the End of the World by Paul Tremblay [2018]

Assh: I picked this book up because I thought it would an interesting take on the classic home invasion story – these four strangers say that by sacrificing a family member, they will prevent the apocalypse. I love human sacrifice! But all this sacrificed was my will to live. Dramatic? Maybe. But this book was frankly unreadable for me. Is there tension? Absolutely. Do you experience a sense of dread? Totally. But all the blood and gore and the frankly unnecessary deaths just made me want to throw this in the bin.

 If I could unread this, I would. No knives for me.

Rachael: Alright let’s see how many of these I can get out before I'm sick of myself. End of the world? More like end of my patience! End of the World? More like end this book now please! End of the world? More like end of any interest I have in Paul Tremblay. ….ok three is probably enough.

That all may sound harsh, and I do hope this author goes on to do great things, but if he does there’s no way I’m going to be there to check them out. I found this book frustrating in the extreme. Although the prose is decent and the atmosphere of menace and tension Tremblay builds are impressive, I cannot forgive some of his major plot twists. There are character deaths that are important for thematic or plot purposes, and then there’s character deaths that are included for shock value and sadness porn. As far as I am concerned, the deaths in The Cabin at the End of the World all fall into the latter. This one is a miss for me.

Final Verdict: 0/5 Knives

 

The Chalk ManThe Chalk Man by CJ Tudor [2018]

Assh: To me, this book had it all – an unreliable narrator, a tragic backstory, and a looming sense of dread in the current era. The idea that a simple chalk man led a group of friends to the body of a teen girl in the woods as children has now come to haunt them as adults was very interesting. The author managed to make my skin crawl and what a twist! Honestly I wish I could forget I read this just to get that feeling of shock and joy again. 4/5 knives.

Rachael: I’ll admit it. This book got me. I consider myself a pretty savvy genre reader. I can see most twists coming a mile away, and the classic dramatic reveal in act three is often more of a confirmation than a surprise. This ending, however, knocked me on my butt like a two by four. An invisible two by four. Soaked in melancholy and repressed violence, The Chalk Man is a bleak mystery full of subtle clues and gritty truths - shot through with an every encroaching sense of danger and topped with a blood-spattered bow. If you’re at all a fan of darker mysteries (and why else would you be here?) give this one a shot. 3/5 knives.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5 Knives

 

 

The Death of Mrs. Westaway by Ruth Ware [2018]The Death of Mrs. Westaway

Assh: Ruth Ware specializes in anxiety induced mystery. Her protagonists are perpetually tightrope walking their own nerves, and this is no exception. I definitely identified with the protagonist Hal, who realizes that this case of mistaken identity would positively change her life, but in order to do that she has to unravel the mystery of the young girl who a generation earlier was locked in the attic. However, I was also incredibly annoyed at her because of her own anxiety, which is just me projecting. Me, anxious? More likely thank you think.  Fans of Rebecca will see similarities. 4/5 knives.

RachaelOh HECK yes give me those good good Agatha Christie vibes. An inheritance. A scam. A mysterious past. All set in a crumbling isolated mansion inhabited by a discontent and suspicious wealthy family. The Death of Mrs. Westaway is the type of mystery I LIVE for. And Ruth Ware delivers on her premise in spades. From the second our protagonist sets foot on Westaway property you feel the danger creeping closer and closer. Clues and red herrings abound. And, perhaps most importantly, her characters are both realistic and compelling, drawing true investment from the reader. This is a delightful mystery I would recommend to anyone. 4.5/5 Knives

Final Verdict: 4.25/5 Knives

 

 

The Turn of the Key

The Turn of the Key by Ruth Ware [2019]

Assh: Clearly a riff on Henry James’ classic The Turn of the Screw, this exploration of the aftermath of a babysitting gig gone wrong is in the vein of the rest of Ruth Ware’s works. As a nanny sits on trial for murder, she breaks down all of the ways in which this seemingly perfect post has come undone around her. What caused this breakdown? Is it the technologically advanced but ultimately crap house? The angelic children who turned out to be little demons? Is she the murderer, or is someone else? Is it the house? 3/5 knives.

Rachael: Although I am a fan of mystery, I am a bit of a scaredy cat when it comes to horror. This book walks the line between those two genres and I won’t lie, it scared the snot out of me in a couple of places. Ruth Ware wrote this book to play on some pretty visceral fears – being responsible for the safety of vulnerable children in dangerous situations, not trusting or understanding the very walls around you, CREEPY KIDS – and she does so incredibly effectively. Like all of Ruth Ware’s books, the twist ending is both deft and shocking. Gothic-lite with futuristic technology, The Turn of the Key is a book I would recommend if you’re looking for something a bit on the darker side. 4/5 knives.

Final Verdict: 3.5/5 Knives

 

The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton [2019]The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle

Assh: I cannot stress how great this book was, from start to finish. Narrator Aiden Bishop wakes up screaming, not knowing who or where he is. When a mystery man in a plague doctor mask tells him that for the next eight days he will wake up in the body of the witness to the murder of Evelyn Hardcastle, he struggles to solve the murder and the mystery of who he is. As time goes on, he unravels who he is and discovers he may not like what he finds. This book reminded me of the game Dishonored for some reason on top of being a series of winding, twisting turns, and thus gets a 5/5 knives for me.

Rachael: What can I say about The 7½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle other than it absolutely blew my mind? The author has taken a classic premise -a murder at an isolated mansion with a limited number of suspects (bottle episode ya’ll)- and transformed it into something I’ve never seen before. And it’s so. very. cool. Even if the mystery itself weren't incredibly compelling (which it is), the undergirding premise is so novel that this book would have drawn me in anyway. It’s well written, it’s inventive, it’s about as twisty and turney as you can get. Do yourself a solid and read this book. 5/5 Knives

Final Verdict: 5/5 Knives

 

 

The Silent PatientThe Silent Patient by Alex Michaelides [2019]

Assh: This whodunit mixes epistolary diary entries of the convicted murderer and formerly famous painter Alicia with the narration of a deeply fascinated psychotherapist named Theo who applies to work at her institution. Honestly, the story is a bit flat, with Theo essentially droning on and on about his obsession with Alicia, who comes off as being frankly unlikable. The supposed twist ending was visible from a mile away and honestly meh. It wasn’t the worst thing I read in a while and I wasn’t to believe that the author can write better, so I’ll give it 2/5 knives.

Rachael: Oof. Well. This review will be a little strange (and short) because I’m going to have to admit to the number one librarian sin; I didn’t finish the book. The Silent Patient sounds good. It generated a bit of buzz when it first came out and trust me I am here for the psychological thrillers. When I started reading the book though, it just didn’t grab me. I couldn’t find it in me to care about the characters and the writing style wasn’t enough to make up for that lack of investment. There may be light at the end of this tunnel, but I didn’t stick around long enough to find out. So much to read, so little time; why spend it on something you don’t love? NA/5

Final Verdict: 1/5 Knives

 

 

Assh’s Suggestion for RachaelThe Outsider

The Outsider by Stephen King [2018]

Rachael recently told me she had never read anything by Stephen King aside from the Dark Tower series, so I know she’ll love this. It mixes King’s masterful storytelling and horror instincts with a wonderful whodunit story from his Mr. Mercedes universe. When the tortured body of a young boy is found and all the evidence points to the local Little League Coach, it seems like an open and shut case. But when video evidence proves that he wasn’t even there and that this may be the work of a serial killer, the real mystery takes a deeper, darker turn. It combines elements of detective novels, horror, and the supernatural in a grusome way to remind everyone that Stephen KIng is still on top of his game. You'll love this, trust me.

 

 

 

 

 

The Luminous DeadRachael’s Suggestion for Assh

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Starling [2019]

Anyone who is a fan of thrillers (AKA you Assh) needs to read The Luminous Dead immediately. Is it technically Sci-fi and not mystery? Yes. Does that matter? Not when it's so gosh darn mysterious. This book is one non-step adrenaline ride from the moment our protagonist begins her descent into one of her world's unexplored and potentially exploitable tunnels. Unexplored that is, except for the cavers who proceeded before her... and never returned. I burned through this book in the span of two evenings because I HAD to know what was going on. This book raises questions that you feel compelled to answer. Who can be trusted? How far would you go to get what you wanted? And perhaps the most important question: what exactly is out there in the dark?