Best Books of August 2018
By Abby EndlerAugust 31, 2018
Hey there, reader! I’m absolutely thrilled to be collaborating with Criminal Element on this brand-new “Best of the Month” series. When I’m not reading crime fiction or writing about crime fiction as Crime by the Book, I can often be found perusing Criminal Element’s fantastic selection of crime book reviews and features—so I couldn’t be more excited to start contributing to the site too!
So here’s how this new feature will work: Each month, I’ll be sharing with Criminal Element readers my picks for best books of the month—but this list will have a unique twist. Rather than giving you a general rundown of the new releases I’m recommending each month, I’ll be dividing these lists into specific categories—and these categories will change on a month-to-month basis too. This will mean that no list will be exactly like the others. So make sure to check in at the end of each month to see what categories I’ve created and which books I’m choosing for each!
Without further ado, let’s dive right into my picks for Best Books of August 2018!
Best Cover of the Month
Karin Slaughter is, to me, one of the most exciting crime writers working today. Her dark, gritty brand of crime fiction stands out for its precise balance of layered plotting and equally complex character development; the violence and chills of her crime novels are expertly paired with the kind of vivid character studies that give them depth beyond their entertainment value. It’s such an effective blend, and it’s what always makes me genuinely invested in these stories—not just in the solution to the story’s central mystery but in the women and men who fill the books’ pages too. Slaughter’s latest release is no exception.
Pieces of Her takes readers along on a deep dive into one woman’s past, as seen through the eyes of her daughter; it’s a shocking, sweeping story that’s guaranteed to be unlike anything you’ve read from Slaughter yet. In Pieces of Her, protagonist Andrea is at the mall with her mother, Laura—it’s an ordinary day in the very ordinary town of Belle Isle, Georgia. But Andrea’s quiet world is rocked when their mother-daughter outing is shattered by violence. In the face of an unthinkable moment of danger, Andrea’s demure mother springs into action—and Andrea realizes she never really knew her mom at all. What follows is an expansive, sweeping story—a thriller that spans years and continents to piece together the truth about a seemingly ordinary mother with a very complicated past.
Pieces of Her is like a bookish jigsaw puzzle—a mystery centered around solving the riddle that is Laura. The cover designer for Pieces of Her absolutely nailed it. The cover art for Pieces of Her is the perfect representation of the fractured image that Andrea has of her mother, and there’s something totally chilling about the fact that the image appears to be made up of Polaroid photos. Somehow, it conjured up the idea of an investigation to me, which is perfect for the book! This cover tells you so much about the book at a glance—and that, to me, is what makes it the best cover of August.
Best Narrator of the Month
I love a good police procedural, and I love discovering talented debut authors—so when I can check both those boxes in one book, I know I’m in for a genuine treat. Sweet Little Lies by Caz Frear is one of the most accomplished, assured debuts I’ve read in ages; it’s fresh and modern while also remaining stylistically true to classic police procedurals. It’s a true standout, and the driving force behind this book—and the element that tipped the scale from great to exceptional, for me—is its narrator. In Cat Kinsella, the author has crafted a refreshing, tough-yet-vulnerable, deeply relatable female lead—exactly the kind of protagonist I love most.
Cat Kinsella is a policewoman working in London. When the body of a young housewife is found, Cat is assigned to the case. But things quickly take a turn for the personal when she discovers that the body was found not far from the pub that her estranged father runs. Matters become even more sinister when Cat receives an anonymous tip linking this murder to the disappearance of a young woman in Ireland years prior.
The big problem for Cat? She and her family were on vacation in Ireland when that young woman went missing—and ever since her childhood, Cat has had a deep suspicion that her father knew more about the young woman’s disappearance than he let on. Now, Cat has two choices: recuse herself from the case and save her professional career or take this as an opportunity to prove her father’s innocence—or his guilt—once and for all. You can probably guess which option she takes.
Perhaps the best thing about Cat as a protagonist is her deep relatability. There is so much at work within this character: her job anxieties, the deep-seated emotional baggage she carries due to her estrangement from her family, the insecurities she harbors in her personal life. She’s not superwoman, but she is a stunning fictional representation of just how impressive and complex real women are, and that kind of character interests me most of all. Author Caz Frear weaves within Cat a whole story unto itself—and the intersection of her personal and professional lives makes for genuinely captivating crime reading.
Best Twist of the Month
Imagine you’re driving home on an ordinary evening. You’re tired after a long day of work, looking forward to seeing your family and having a relaxing night. You pull onto your street, approach your house, and … there’s a moving van outside. To make things even more strange, there’s a whole new family showing movers where to set up their furniture in your home. Your husband is gone, and he has taken with him your two children. What would you do?
That’s just about the situation the protagonist of Our House by Louise Candlish faces. There’s instant appeal to Candlish’s outstanding psychological suspense novel: the cover and the plot summary just scream “read me.” But the best part of this book is what you’ll uncover within its pages. Candlish has crafted a psychological thriller that manages to both satisfy the standards readers have come to expect from domestic suspense and push boundaries in genuinely fun, unpredictable ways. Candlish weaves together unique storytelling elements (a true crime podcast and social media “screenshots” from strangers online discussing the case), a genuinely baffling central mystery, and plenty of domestic secrets in this addictive thriller. And I can’t say too much about it without spoiling anything, but boy does she have a twist in store for her readers.
Perhaps the best thing about Our House is that it doesn’t hinge entirely on its twist; there is so much to sink your teeth into throughout this story, you won’t feel that you’re just coasting along waiting for something to click in place. But when the twist comes, you will be shocked—and it will change everything you thought you knew about the crafty mystery Candlish has laid out.
Best Book of the Month
To be honest, I was most excited about starting this new “Best Books of the Month” series with August 2018 so I could talk about this brilliant book. Ragnar Jonasson has become known for his unique brand of Scandinavian crime fiction: set in Iceland, his books blend the moody atmosphere of Nordic Noir with mysteries that feel more aligned with Golden Age detective fiction than the more typically gruesome Scandinavian crime genre. It’s no accident that Jonasson’s books feel like modern classics, either: he is a huge fan of Agatha Christie and has actually translated numerous Christie novels into Icelandic!
Blackout is the third book in Jonasson’s internationally bestselling Dark Iceland series, and to me, it’s hands-down the best. Vividly atmospheric and immersive, Blackout plays with Iceland’s extreme weather to create a claustrophobic mystery.
It’s summer in Iceland, and the country is awash in the 24-hour daylight of the season. On the shores of a peaceful fjord, a man is beaten to death in the bright Icelandic night. In Reykjavik, a young female journalist sets out to investigate the crime—and her path will soon cross with Ari Thor, the policeman who provides the focal point of Jonasson’s Dark Iceland books. But as the daylight of summer is darkened by ash clouds from a volcanic eruption, the investigation becomes increasingly murky—and the personal secrets of our characters threaten to surface.
There’s so much to love about Blackout: its precise plotting, its rich atmosphere, its underlying sense of claustrophobia and tension, its characters—I could go on and on. Readers who love classic detective novels will find Jonasson’s writing immersive and quietly gripping; readers who love to be transported into new worlds through their reads will find the Icelandic backdrop of this story more than satisfying. The addition of the story’s female journalist—a character who becomes just as, if not more, important to the mystery as is Ari Thor—was a brilliant move on Jonasson’s part. Ari Thor has a legion of fans around the world, but I actually loved this journalist character even more than Ari. Her emotional complexity and the hidden secrets of her past gave Blackout a depth that I found utterly gripping.
I Know You Know by Gilly Macmillan (September 18, 2018)
Gilly Macmillan may be the best-kept secret in psychological suspense writing. It (somehow!) took me way too long to discover her addictive, binge-worthy brand of crime writing—but when I read her book The Perfect Girl a year or so ago, I realized just how much I was missing out on. The Perfect Girl delivered a totally fresh take on psychological suspense, centering on a musical prodigy and the dark secrets her family kept hidden. (If you haven’t yet read it and are looking for a weekend binge-read, it’s absolutely worth checking out!) This September, Macmillan has a new book slated for release—and it sounds fantastic.
Taking up a cold case, I Know You Know follows a man who has never quite been able to let go of a tragedy that befell him in his youth. Twenty years prior, protagonist Cody’s two childhood friends were murdered. Now, having been haunted by the horrific crime for decades, Cody decides it’s time to get some real answers. He returns to his hometown and starts his own investigation—and he launches a podcast to record his findings. But there are many in the town who don’t want the case reopened and are determined to stop Cody in his tracks.
Cold cases? Podcasts? I am totally in. I Know You Know incorporates so many elements that I love in psychological thrillers; in particular, I love crime novels that incorporate podcasts as investigative or journalistic tools. As a huge fan of true-crime podcasts in my “real life,” I’m always excited to see how authors incorporate this component into their fiction! Couple these compelling elements with my previous love of Gilly’s crime writing, and I just can’t wait to dig into her newest project.
And that’s a wrap on my Best Books of August 2018! Thank you so much for taking the time to give this list a read. Happy reading, and I’ll be back in September!