Our picks for best mysteries and thrillers of April is a particularly eclectic mix this month. There's a horror story set around a 90s era Charleston book club, and a horror story of a different kind as the Fuhrer arrives in Paris in June 1940, giving an assassin a short window of opportunity to do her job. Then there is the heiress, the grifter, and the good-girl-gone-bad, each one trying to outwit the other two. And finally, a literary legal drama set in a small Texas oil town, where "an act of brutality...is tried in the churches and barrooms of Odessa before it can reach a court of law."
The Southern Book Club's Guide to Slaying Vampires by Grady Hendrix
Pitching a novel as "Steel Magnolias meets Dracula" is a bold move, but The Southern Book Club’s Guide to Slaying Vampires lives up to the comparison. Patricia is a Charleston housewife whose husband Carter spends more time traveling for work than he does at home. Her two teenage kids don’t appreciate her, and much of her time is spent caring for her senile mother-in-law. The only thing giving her life is her book club. So what if their typical picks, like Cry, the Beloved Country, are less her speed than the true crime titles they actually discuss? One night after book club, an elderly neighbor attacks Patricia, which brings the woman’s handsome nephew into Patricia’s life, and just like that, her life takes a turn for the more interesting. James is smart, well-read, well-traveled, and attentive. But as time goes on, Patricia realizes that she is not the only one James is interested in; that she, her family, and even her beloved book club are being groomed by a man who may be a monster. The big draw here is a portrayal of the '90s—both hilarious and spot-on accurate—that manages to be both gentle satire and affectionate homage all in one, while touching on social issues like racism, sexism, classism, and feminism. Watching these friends put the steel in steel magnolias may be the funniest horror story you read all year. —Vannessa Cronin
Pretty Things by Janelle Brown
It’s hard to tell the marks from the con artists in Pretty Things. Everyone has an angle, and everyone has a façade behind which they hide the wounds of their past. Nina’s mother, Lily, hustled Nina’s entire childhood to get her an education, so she wouldn’t have to turn to crime as Lily had done. Yet here’s Nina and her shady boyfriend, Lachlan, fleeing L.A. just one step ahead of the law, who are onto the scams Nina has pulled in order to pay for her mother’s cancer treatments. When Lachlan suggests they hide out in Lake Tahoe, Nina agrees. Her next mark, and former foe, heiress and Instagram influencer Vanessa Liebling, is in residence at her family’s Tahoe estate, Stonehaven, and Nina sees an opportunity to settle an old score. Pretty Things packs a lot of story into what should be a straightforward revenge tale. Dual narrators—Vanessa and Nina—have the same effect on the many twists and reveals as a funhouse mirror, warping the reader’s ability to know who to root for, because both women are likable. But both come from families that make the Borgias look like the Brady Bunch, so you know it’s going to be last man standing as class warfare, social media, money, and old history square off in this complex and riveting thriller. —Vannessa Cronin
Three Hours in Paris by Cara Black
Cara Black’s Three Hours in Paris is a highly entertaining historical thriller of espionage and political double-dealing set in the unique atmosphere of Paris during the Nazi occupation. It’s 1940, and Kate Rees is an American living with her husband and young daughter in the U.K. When tragedy strikes, the war becomes personal for this former ranch girl from Oregon, and Kate—a champion markswoman—is recruited by the British government for a clandestine mission in Paris: assassinate Hitler. With revenge on her mind, Kate is dropped into the City of Light to carry out her assignment, but things go awry and she’s suddenly on her own and on the run. A cat-and-mouse chase ensues over the next 36 hours as Kate tries to get out of the country before she’s caught by Gunter Hoffman, a methodical former policeman tasked by Hitler himself to find the would-be assassin. Black’s thriller gives readers a delightful fictional answer to the mystery of Hitler’s real-life three-hour visit to Paris in June 1940 that ended abruptly for reasons still unknown. Three Hours in Paris is an exciting page-turner that will be particularly enjoyable for readers who appreciate a heroine who defies all odds and expectations. —Seira Wilson
Valentine by Elizabeth Wetmore
When a young Mexican girl is viciously raped and beaten by a brooding oil-slick cowboy, the small town of Odessa, Texas, must decide where the law lies and whom they believe. Narrated by five women, Valentine is the story of how they survive amidst the 1970s violence, poverty, and racism that surrounds them. Despite their wounds, each of these women—whether victims or bystanders, young or old, lost or found, directly connected to the violence or not—are sunbaked strong and have been fighting for their lives as long as they can remember. Desperation, loneliness, and fear abound in this novel, but so too does care, compassion, and hope. Elizabeth Wetmore’s debut calls to mind Western greats like Larry McMurtry but supplants the hardened cowboys with fierce and courageous women. Haunting, powerful, and beautifully written, Valentine will linger with you long after you’ve finished the last page. —Al Woodworth
Vampires, grifters, a WWII assassin, and a helping of Texas justice: editors have picked a particularly eclectic selection of mysteries in April.