The best mysteries and thrillers of September

Vannessa Cronin on September 25, 2020
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Year after year, September is a great month for mysteries and thrillers, and in this regard 2020, for once, does not disappoint. We see the return of Carl Hiaasen who delivers a Palm Beach tale of murder, pearls, and reptiles with all the glee of a little boy poking holes in balloons. Louise Penny and Craig Johnson are back with the latest, eagerly-awaited entries in their respective series; Ruth Ware strands a group of unwitting souls at a luxury Alpine chalet and lets us wait for the (figurative) axe to drop. And Wendy Walker strikes fear in the heart of suburbia with the story of a disappeared mom and the creepy small town whose residents may know more than they're telling her daughter.

Learn more about these and all of our picks for the Best Books of the Month.


All the Devils Are Here by Louise Penny

The Gamache family—including Armand’s godfather, wealthy industrialist Stephen Horowitz—gather in Paris to await the birth of Annie’s and Jean-Guy’s daughter. But walking home from dinner one night, Stephen is mowed down by a passing van and it’s immediately clear to Gamache that this was no accident. To catch a would-be killer in the City of Light without the resources of the Sûreté at his back? Tough. Luckily, he has an old colleague he can call on to help, and a family that has his back, though some old father/son tensions float to the surface. Despite this fascinating glimpse into the workings of the Gamache family, there will be those thinking: A Gamache book in which we don’t visit Three Pines until near the very end? Mais, non! It's marvelous to learn so much about Gamache as a child and as a young man, to see the family come to the fore, and to see the whodunnit and why aspects of the plot pay off in a satisfying conclusion.

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Don't Look for Me by Wendy Walker

Wendy Walker has a knack for portraying relatable, ordinary, suburban families. So when she flings them into sink or swim scenarios, readers are torn between two responses: "there but for the grace of God go I" on one hand, and "those characters are just like me and my family/friends - would we react any differently?" on the other. And in that space between relief and relatable, Walker can scare, shock, and gaslight her audience. In the best way possible, of course. That's what happens in Don't Look for Me, which kicks off with the disappearance of a grieving mother. Alternating chapters toggle between the mom and her teenage daughter—appalled that her behavior may have driven her mother away, and determined to search for her in the creepy town near where she disappeared—as readers hold their breath to see if these two can make their way back to one another.


One by One by Ruth Ware

Snowed in at a luxury ski chalet high in the French Alps sounds like first world problems. But in One by One, the opulence comes at a price; for one, the chalet residents are eight co-workers from a tech firm. For another, they all have secret issues and problems, so when a buyout offer is floated it is met with violent disagreement. Ware is frequently described as the successor to Agatha Christie, praise that is mostly based on Ware's fondness for the closed circuit mystery, as with the book that made her name: In a Dark, Dark Wood. But, as she shows here, Ware has the perfect combination of light touch and complex plotting while also offering up the twists and reveals appreciated by Christie fans.


Next to Last Stand by Craig Johnson

Walt Longmire and Vick learn more about art than they bargained for when Walt's old friend Charley Lee Stillwell dies of an apparent heart attack at the Wyoming Home for Soldiers & Sailors. Among his belongings there is a fragment of an old,believed to be destroyed, painting entitled "Custer's Last Fight." This depiction of the events at Little Bighorn is wrong in almost every detail, but because August Busch purchased the original, and distributed prints to every watering hole and VFW hall in the nation, it's taken on iconic status in its own right and someone may be prepared to murder for possession of it. But Charley's other possession, half a million dollars stuffed into a shoebox, deserves closer inspection, too. Walt, ready as ever to take a licking and keep on ticking in pursuit of right, juggles art education and an art heist.


Squeeze Me by Carl Hiaasen

One of the joys of reading Hiaasen is that he uses silly, broad humor to distract his readers from the sly, sharp humor dotted throughout in his books. Whether your taste runs to broad or sharp, the net result is laughter, as in Squeeze Me, where an aged Palm Beach socialite and POTUSSY (i.e. presidential fangirl) disappears during a charity gala. Around the same time, wildlife expert Angie Armstrong is called in to remove a Burmese python, with a gigantic bump where his midsection should be, from the grounds of the club where Kiki Pew disappeared. When the resident of the nearby Winter White House (or Casa Bellicosa, as it is known here) blames Kiki's death on homicidal immigrants, and when powerful forces conspire to make the python and it's bump disappear—though not before the First Lady (codename: Mockingbird) and her motorcade have a reptilian encounter—it'll be down to Angie to squeeze the truth out of the social and political intrigue.


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