The best mysteries and thrillers of August

Vannessa Cronin on August 12, 2020

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This month sees three very different flavors of cold case: straight up, badly handled, and can't-quite-tell. Then there's the thriller about a Lakota man who ventures from his reservation to take on a Colorado drug gang.

August is shaping up to be a great month for crime fiction so click here to see all of our mystery, thriller, and suspense picks or browse the rest of the Best Books of the Month

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

Thirty years ago, mathematician Grant McAllister applied the laws of mathematics to detective fiction and deduced that there were seven basic mystery plots. To illustrate, he wrote seven murder mysteries and published them under the title The White Murders. Then he took himself off to a remote island in the Mediterranean and was never heard from again. When The Eighth Detective begins, Julia, an editor, has made her way to Grant’s island to intrude on his exile with a plan to re-edit and re-issue The White Murders. But as the project progresses, curious typos strike Julia as worrying. Grant tells her that when it comes to detective fiction, “The possibilities are presented to the reader up front. The ending just comes back and points to one of them.” Julia begins to wonder if the seven stories aren’t themselves possibilities, containing clues to a darker mystery that may have happened off the page. Trying to reason along with Julia—and tease out the possibilities—will drive readers mad, but relentlessly drives the plot forward. Aficionados of puzzles, misdirection, contradiction, red herrings, twists, jaw-dropping reveals, and nesting-doll plots: this book is for you.

Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Virgil Wounded Horse has lost many things: his parents, his sobriety, his dignity, his beloved sister, and Marie, the woman he loves. Sober again, living on the Rosebud Reservation, he lives among his people but turns his back on their traditions. Half-Lakota, half-white, Virgil can still hear the taunts of “half-breed” ringing in his ears. He’s raising his teenage nephew Nathan, but ekes out a less than family-friendly living by charging money to rough up tribespeople whose crimes have been ignored by the federal government. So when Marie’s dad, a tribal councilman, offers him a big payday to go to Colorado and deliver justice to a fellow Lakota who’s bringing heroin back to the “rez,” Virgil can’t turn his back on that kind of money. But then Nathan overdoses on heroin, and is later arrested, and Virgil suddenly has more skin in the game than he ever wanted. He will need to fight for stakes way higher than the next payday, and he can’t do it alone. Thought-provoking and suspenseful, uplifting and heartbreaking, moving and brutal, Winter Counts is a thriller that delivers so much more than the word “thriller” promises.

The Silent Wife by Karin Slaughter

A prison riot brings GBI Agent Will Trent to the state penitentiary to investigate, which is how he meets a prisoner who draws a line between the recent, brutal murder of a young woman and an attack the prisoner was accused of several years ago, but swears he had nothing to do with. As Will digs deeper, he realizes there were many earlier unsolved cases, and they all had something in common: the late Chief of Police of Grant County, Jeffrey Tolliver, who may have mishandled the investigation. Nearly a decade later, witnesses are hard to find, evidence is sketchy, and moreover, medical examiner Sara Linton—Tolliver's widow and Will's girlfriend—is proving less helpful than usual. Slaughter's books are not for the faint of heart: the depictions of violence against women are hard to stomach at times, but she never allows hard-driving plots to overpower characterization, which is always complex, nuanced, and utterly believable. Though it's not necessary to have read the rest of the series, after reading The Silent Wife you'll want to go back to the start.

We Are All the Same in the Dark by Julia Heaberlin

The disappearance of Trumanell Branson years ago, leaving behind only a bloody handprint, is the cold case that police in a small southern town have never been able to solve. But the court of public opinion tried and convicted Tru's brother, Wyatt, almost immediately. When Wyatt—mentally fragile, still hearing his sister's voice—finds a lost girl dumped in a circle of dandelions, he thinks it's a sign from Tru. However, Odette Tucker, a cop whose history with the Branson siblings drove her to join the police, realizes with growing desperation how important it is to solve both cases before the townspeople, still seething over the disappearance of one girl, do something violent to protect another. A slow-burn thriller with a bruised heart and a disturbing secret at its core, We Are All the Same in the Dark centers three women in a shocking story that proves to be a page-turner to the very last.

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