Having coauthored five bestsellers with James Patterson (Lifeguard, etc.), Gross makes a solo debut superior to his collaborative efforts, if short of the first thriller rank. His engaging heroine, Kate Raab, a medical researcher in the Bronx, is shocked when the Feds arrest her beloved gold trader father, Benjamin, and charge him with laundering money for a Colombian drug cartel. A hit team’s attempt to kill the entire Raab family prompts all of them, except Kate, to start their lives anew in the witness protection program. Kate’s choice, predictably, places her in continuing danger, even as she begins to suspect that her father’s involvement with the narco traffickers was more deliberate and extensive than he’s willing to admit. The secret revelations at the heart of the plot may strike some as a little far-fetched, and the details about the witness protection program fail to convince, but Gross shows sufficient talent for readers to want to see more from his pen alone.
– The Grave Tattoo by Val McDermid
An intriguing, 200-year-old mystery propels this multilayered stand-alone from British author McDermid set in England’s Lake District. Scholar Jane Gresham pursues her theory that HMS Bounty mutineer Fletcher Christian returned secretly from exile to his homeland in the late 18th century. A shriveled body found in a bog seems to bear resemblance to this dashing hero, right down to the South Sea tattoos that blacken his buttocks. Jane searches relentlessly for a lost manuscript by the poet Wordsworth that relates Christian’s tale in tantalizing excerpts between chapters. Various subplots complicate her quest, including a fraught friendship with precocious 13-year-old Tenille, a lonely, mixed-race girl who also loves Romantic poetry. With a feminist, socially conscious spin, McDermid (The Distant Echo) vividly contrasts marginal subsistence in London’s dismal Marshpool neighborhood with the Lake District’s bucolic lifestyle. Boasting blurbs from such notable authors as Harlan Coben, Tess Gerritsen and Joseph Finder, this could be McDermid’s break-out book.
– I Heard That Song Before by Mary Higgins Clark
At the start of bestseller Clark’s riveting new novel of suspense, Kay Lansing recalls her first visit as a six-year-old to the Carrington estate in Englewood, N.J., where her father worked as a landscaper. Twenty-two years later, she returns to ask the present owner, Peter Carrington, if she can use the mansion for a fund-raiser. The two fall madly in love, and after a whirlwind courtship, they marry despite the shadow of suspicion that hangs over Peter regarding the death of a neighbor’s daughter two decades earlier and the drowning of his first wife four years before. After an idyllic honeymoon, the couple return to New Jersey, where a magazine article has caused the police to reopen the cases. The subsequent discovery of two bodies buried on the estate causes even Kay to doubt her husband’s innocence. Clark (Two Little Girls in Blue) deftly keeps the finger of guilt pointed in many directions until the surprising conclusion.
– The Best Place to Be: A Novel in Stories by Lesley Dormen
Raised by a self-involved, divorce-prone mother; alienated from her father; and engaged in an occasionally volatile relationship with her younger brother, New Yorker Grace Hanford lives life as a continuous struggle to find balance. Dormen’s novel-in-stories is distinctive in that the collection does not progress in chronological order. Rather, each of the eight stories focuses on a different point in Grace’s life–as an eager, sensitive freshman at an all-girls college, a thirty-something single reaching out to her estranged father, or married and middle-aged on a trip to Rome. Grace is inquisitive, clever, sublimely compulsive, and owns an inherent loneliness that (unlike some despondent protagonists) doesn’t come across as trivialized or steeped in self-pity. A common discord links the collection, though some readers may find more resonance in the stories as they stand alone rather than as an inclusive novel. Emerging writer Dormen’s engaging fiction moves at a fluid pace with an equally affecting sense of poignancy and humor.