Need to Know by Karen Cleveland
With three children in daycare and one in elementary school, Vivian Miller is already stressed, with her life revolving around her work as a CIA analyst and juggling childcare with her husband Matt. Matt calls to say that Ella’s sick and needs to be picked up within an hour, just before his photo shows up in the files of a Russian agent Vivian is tracking. This all happens in the first chapter, with the pace and suspense hardly letting up throughout the story. Can Vivian trust Matt? Will Omar, her colleague at the FBI, be able to help? What should Vivian tell her parents? Flashbacks to Vivian and Matt’s past, including a memorable first meeting, a surprise trip to Hawaii, then life as young parents, have her doubting their whole life together. Vivian would really like to stay home with the kids, but Matt logically urges her to keep her job, and to try for a promotion. I thought Vivian was rather easy to manipulate, but the author, a former CIA analyst, never gives her any easy choices. There’s not a lot of depth here, in either the characters or the plot, but this hard to put down thriller is a good readalike for The Expats by Chris Pavone. Movie rights have been sold, and Charlize Theron may produce and star in the film.
Munich by Robert Harris
A gripping spy thriller about the Munich conference in September 1938 that averted war for a while. After taking over Austria, Germany wanted Sudetenland, an ethnically German section of Czechoslovakia. British Prime Minister Chamberlain flew to Munich with some of his staff and advisers to meet with Hitler, Mussolini, and French Prime Minister Daladier. Apparently, the British and French military weren’t yet ready for war, and Chamberlain was trying to prevent or at least delay England’s entry into war. Over the course of four very tense days, two junior staffers who met at Oxford try to exchange secret documents that could affect the conference’s outcome. Hugh Legat, one of Chamberlain’s secretaries, is the only German speaker of the British delegation, but is mostly stuck at the delegation’s hotel. Hugh is at the beginning of his career, and money is tight. By disobeying orders, he risks his career. In Berlin, his former classmate Paul van Hartmann is caught up in a conspiracy to assassinate Hitler, but his main role is to get to Munich with Hitler’s entourage, and transfer the documents to Chamberlain via Legat. Hartmann is under suspicion from the very beginning, and his life is in jeopardy. It’s fascinating to get glimpses of Hitler and Chamberlain, with their very different motivations and personalities, through the eyes of Legat and Hartmann. Hard to put down, although not as outstanding as his earlier novels Pompeii and Conclave.
The Cuban Affair by Nelson DeMille
Adventure, treasure, and romance are in store for Daniel MacCormick when he meets Miami lawyer Carlos in a Key West bar. Mac and fellow veteran Jack run a charter fishing boat in the Florida Keys, and Carlos wants to charter the boat for a 10-day fishing tournament. After the destination is revealed as Cuba, Mac is not interested. But when a reward of millions of dollars is mentioned, he’s willing to hear more. Beautiful Cuban American Sara Ortega wants to retrieve her grandfather’s treasure. A banker, he stashed a fortune and property deeds in a remote cave, to which she has the map. The plan is for Sara and Mac to join a tour group of Yale alums in Havana, while Jack captains Mac’s boat in the fishing tournament, later picking them up along with the treasure. Mac and Sara’s tour guide seems suspicious of them, and is jealous when they begin a romance to cover their unexplained absences. The tour group sees all the sights in and around Havana, and hears a version of Cuban history. This part isn’t very exciting, nor is the romance, but the pace really picks up when the pair head out of Havana in an old Buick station wagon, trying to avoid the police as they head for the treasure. The risk of betrayal and arrest keeps increasing and Mac wonders if they’ll make it out of Cuba alive, with or without the treasure. A fun trip through Cuba, and a good readalike for Clive Cussler.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian Walker
Edgar’s not much of a father or husband. When news of the end-of-the-world crisis comes, he’s drunk. But he’s mentally prepared, and helps Beth and their two little kids survive. Later, the family gets separated and Ed is left behind in Edinburgh with a small group. He needs to get to Cornwall in a hurry to find his family again, but the roads are mostly impassable. Surprisingly, Ed won’t ever give up, and the group starts running southwest through the bleak landscape, where they have encounters alternately charming and malevolent. I found the completely ordinary Ed appealing and memorable, and the story very compelling reading.
The Salt Line by Holly Goddard Jones
A dystopian thriller set in the near future that’s sure to be popular. A group of residents of the southeast zone have paid a large fee to spend a few weeks enjoying nature beyond the salt line. The salt line is a ring of scorched earth and garbage dumps intended to protect the privileged zone residents from ticks carrying deadly diseases. The group’s guide, Andy, makes them practice using a cauterizing stamp that works to prevent disease if used right after a tick bite, and cautions them to stay close to their assigned stamp partner. Somehow the group, which includes tech entrepreneur Wes, middle-aged mom Marta, pop star Jesse and his girlfriend Edie, end up in Ruby City, where June and the other residents, including scarred Violet, no longer live in fear of ticks, though at a price. Adventure and danger follow the group, and they have to decide what kind of life they’ll choose in the future, if they survive. This is another September pick by Library Reads.
Camino Island by John Grisham
Perfect for vacation reading, this entertaining thriller has a devilishly clever plot that keeps the pages turning. A well-planned heist of five rare manuscripts by F. Scott Fitzgerald from Princeton University opens the story. Months later, with the FBI still investigating, a private company contacts Mercer Mann, a young English instructor, with an intriguing offer. If she spends a few months on Camino Island mingling with the literary community, her college loans will be paid off and she’ll have the time to work on her long overdue second novel. Mercer spent several summers on the Florida island, but hasn’t returned since her grandmother’s sudden death. Mercer is asked to get close to island bookseller Bruce Cable, and to try to get a look at his rare book vault in the basement. The local and visiting writers get together often for drinks and to talk about writing and publishing. Mercer spends much of her time walking and sunning on the beach, and is still struggling to find a book plot. Soon enough, the thieves and book dealers connect. The FBI wants to arrest the thieves, while Princeton’s insurance company is focused on getting the manuscripts returned, and Mercer struggles to do the right thing.
Hotel by Arthur Hailey
Published in 1965, this is a thriller about five eventful days at the St. Gregory Hotel in New Orleans. Peter McDermott, the assistant general manager, typically spends much of his time dealing with one crisis after another, as he’s responsible for keeping the hotel running smoothly, but can’t make major changes. Christine Francis, assistant to hotel owner Warren Trent, is a bright spot in his day, as is a distressed guest, Martha Preyscott. During the week, Peter deals with problems in the kitchen, an ill guest housed in the hotel’s worst room, a convention of dentists threatening to leave, a thief, and the looming threat of the hotel being sold. Tycoon Curtis O’Keefe is visiting with his sweet girlfriend Dodo, and is deciding if the St. Gregory will become part of his bland, efficient, and impersonal chain of hotels. The city is briefly but vividly described, with most of the focus on a back stage view of the hotel, from the kitchens to the elevators to the incinerator room, offices, and parking garage. A hotel staff member is blackmailing guests who may be connected to a hit and run, and Peter can only how he’d like to run the hotel. An elevator accident, hinted at early in the book, brings the novel to a dramatic close. While somewhat dated, this is still a plot-driven page turner with just enough background on the minor characters to give them appeal without slowing the intensifying pace.