Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn: This is a novel that has got lots of new fans, and it deserves every one of them. The epitome of a "can't-put-it-down" rollercoaster ride that starts when a young woman goes missing on her fifth wedding anniversary. Another Scott Peterson/Laci Peterson story? We are seeing the story through the eyes of her husband, who acknowledges he's great at the art of omitting material facts -- so how reliable is he in what he tells us? Alternatively, how reliable is Amy -- can we trust what she is telling us? Just when you think you know what is coming next, Flynn whisks you off in another direction. This has to be the best thriller I'll read this year.
Defending Jacob by William Landay: There are several novels out right now about children or young adults committing -- or being charged with -- unspeakable crimes, and the adults who defend them. There is The Good Father by Noah Hawley and The Child Who by Simon Lelic -- and then there is this novel, in my opinion the best of the bunch. A classmate of Jacob's is found murdered, and Andy Barber -- his father, and the local assistant district attorney -- overseas an investigation into the crime. Suddenly, Jacob is charged with the crime... and a father's protective instincts go into overdrive. Is he seeing things clearly, or is he choosing to ignore uncomfortable truths? The ending has one of the best twists imaginable.
Double Cross by Ben Macintyre: This author has done several other books focusing on spy intrigues during World War II, and this, the latest, is easily the best of the bunch. It's the story of a motley crew of double agents -- a Serbian playboy, a Peruvian heiress, a Polish nationalist, a Spanish chicken farmer -- worked with British intelligence to mislead the Germans about the timing and direction of the D-day invasion. Bits of this story -- especially about Agent Garbo, Juan Pujol -- have already come out, but this is a great story that covers the experiences of a host of other people, with all their foibles and eccentricities. Worth reading for the exploits of one man convinced that the secret to keeping secrets and deception involved pigeons. Yes, pigeons.
Trapeze by Simon Mawer: Yup, another tale of World War II spies -- this time of the fictional variety. I was delighted to learn from Mawer's publishers that he plans a sequel to this novel, as it ends with a tremendous cliffhanger. To some, it spoils the book; to me, it was the only thing he could do and not end up with a too-trite ending. In any event -- there have been lots and lots of novels around the adventures of the SOE, entrusted by Winston Churchill with the mission of setting Europe ablaze. One young woman goes off to France -- and finds her life becomes unexpectedly complicated. One of the most nailbiting and compulsively readable chase scenes ever, through the streets of Paris, features in this.
The Cranes Dance: by Meg Howrey: A paperback original from a novelist who I hope will go on to write more novels. Howrey takes us backstage at the ballet -- and it's not as glamorous as you might think. (Although neither is it quite as deranged and maniacal as the movie "Black Swan" would have you believe.) Kate Crane has damaged her neck but her pain can be quashed with Vicodin, which she pops steadily as she tells us the story of her life and that of her sister. Talented enough to be one of a tiny handful of soloists in a top ballet company in New York, Kate knows she'll never measure up to younger sister Gwen in sheer talent. But as the reader learns, it's not that that makes Kate uneasy and anxious in her relationship with Gwen, who, at the time the novel opens, may be physically absent from the company and the stage and the pages of the novel but who is vividly present as a part of Kate's life nonetheless. The ending doesn't do justice to what came before -- the last page or two is an odd anticlimax -- but for ballet fans or chick lit readers looking for something a bit different, this is just the ticket.
Any of the novels above should help you beat the heat, and if you haven't managed to read any of the following (among my top books of 2012 so far), the summer is an excellent chance to catch up. Published over the last year or so, each is an excellent "thumping good read".
- Gillespie and I by Jane Harris: Shame on you if you've missed it!
- The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern: Fantastical, and imaginative.
- The Song of Achilles by Madeline Miller: It's not just about the Trojan War.