One for the Books: Give me a thriller

Not all “thrillers” are keep-you-on-the-edge-of-your-seat page-turners; some aren’t even that thrilling. This batch has mixed results.

My favorite this time around is “Killers of a Certain Age” by Deanna Raybourn. I like my mystery-thrillers with a bit of humor, and this one made me laugh out loud.

Four women over 60 are celebrating their forthcoming retirement by taking a cruise together, having spent “forty years on one of the most elite assassin squads on earth.” They worked for a private secret organization called the Museum, originally formed after World War II to go after former Nazis in hiding. Since then, its Board decides who gets killed — dictators, arms dealers, nasty folk. These particular trained killers were recruited in 1978 as part of the first all-female squad.

The ladies talk about what they’ll miss when they retire: “It’s the kick, the constantly measuring yourself against the odds and figuring out how to zig when you expected to zag, balancing on that knife’s edge.”

The women have been successful at their work — even in the last few years. “That’s the thing about being a sixty-year-old woman — no one notices you unless you want them to.” While on the cruise, they discover that they’re the Museum’s next target. But why?  Who at the Museum would want them dead? They have to reason it out and come up with a way to get back to their public lives, all while hiding to avoid being killed.

This was really fun to read. I liked the characters, and I enjoyed the humor. The book has an interesting premise and is fast-paced, with good plot twists. There’s just enough back story — mostly about their training and their early assignments. It’s a definite page-turner. I’d love to see it as a movie, or even a series.

“The Quarry Girls” by Jess Lourey is loosely based on true crimes.

It’s 1977, and two teenage girls have disappeared from a small town in Minnesota. The police are reluctant to investigate; after all, maybe the girls just ran away. Then another disappears. But our characters are suspicious. Heather, 16, is part of an all-girl musical group, and she and one of her friends have seen something that terrified them.

We know one of the girls was kidnapped, because part of the narrative follows her ordeal, which is truly disturbing, and part follows Heather as she does her own investigating. “What I was going to do was dangerous,” Heather tells us. “I didn’t like anything about this.” Her adventure is nail-biting, with some of the action set in dark basements and creepy tunnels.

People, especially the men, are acting strange. Are they who they say they are? Can they be trusted? Can she even trust the boys she grew up with? Or even the police?

“They do terrible things in packs, boys-who-are-men, things they’d never have the hate to do alone,” we’re told. “Were they all hiding in plain sight, the monsters?”

Warning: The story features the abuse of women, violence, unsavory happenings, and a character with bipolar disorder.

In “The Hike” by Susi Holliday, British sisters Cat and Ginny and their husbands go on a vacation to hike in the Swiss Alps. It’s a chance to enjoy the outdoors and heal their relationship.

Four people go up the mountain, but only two come down — but which two? What happened? Where are the others? And is somebody following them?

“Cat had spent a lot of time planning this trip, making sure that every little detail was perfect,” the author tells us. But, “There were a few surprises that she planned to deliver. And not everyone was going to like them.”

The four have complicated relationships, but for me it was a bit forced and artificial.

It’s a quick read — under 300 pages. It offers a unique premise and is a definite page-turner, but I didn’t like any of these characters. If you can get past hating them all, enjoy the plot twists. I’ll bet you can’t guess who survives!

“The Boys from Biloxi” by John Grisham is promoted as a “legal thriller.” Well, it’s not exactly edge-of-your-seat stuff, but it’s a good story — a good long story.

On Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, two boys start out as teammates but grow up going separate ways: one is the son of a crime boss who’s the head of a gambling enterprise that features prostitution, drugs, and the occasional murder-for-revenge. The other is the son of a lawyer who wants to clean up the area’s crime.

The boys follow in their dads’ footsteps and end up opposing each other in the courtroom.

There’s plenty of action, a few murders, and some interesting characters. We get acquainted with several members of the Dixie Mafia. Grisham tells us, “Corruption never stays in a box. It spreads because greedy men see easy money and there is an endless demand for gratification and the promise of a quick buck.”

The book has clever plot twists, but it doesn’t read like a usual Grisham book. For me, there’s too much back story. And there’s detailed history of the area — a lot of history — maybe more history than you care about. Also, it’s all guys, with no really memorable characters among them, and only one interesting female character, who’s mostly in the background. Still, it’s Grisham, so you know it’s well written.

Happy reading!

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Mary Louise Ruehr is a books columnist for The Portager. Her One for the Books column previously appeared in the Record-Courier, where she was an editor.