Monthly Review of Crime and Thriller Genre
Conway’s first book, Argylle (Bantam Press), is highly anticipated as it is being made into a movie by director Matthew Vaughn, who believes it will be the next great spy franchise, comparable to Ian Fleming’s works. There are intriguing rumors surrounding Conway’s identity, with one suggesting a connection to Taylor Swift, although this seems improbable.
The main character of the story is Aubrey Argylle, a young and attractive man. While he is relaxing in Thailand, he witnesses a plane crash in the jungle and takes action to save the passengers. This act catches the attention of the CIA, and they recruit him for a dangerous task. Two important facts about Argylle are that he grew up with parents who were nomadic drug dealers, so he is skilled in various languages and martial arts. His mission is to prevent a Russian supervillain from obtaining a valuable treasure stolen by the Nazis, which would make him the most influential person in the world.
It’s all hugely melodramatic, rather silly and very entertaining, particularly when Argylle’s training for the mission steps up and he’s sent to places such as Monte Carlo (where “the most famous lighting choreographer in the world” awaits) and remote Greek monasteries (“a seemingly impossible feat of perseverance and engineering”). Heir to Fleming is pushing it – I was outraged when, undercover in Monte Carlo after weeks of training under false identities, Argylle and his partner refer to each other by their real names. Did Conway write this while “working as a waitress in a late-night diner”, as her author blurb says? Or did it come to her “in a febrile dream” while recuperating from an accident, as her author’s note has it? I can’t say, but be prepared: the hype is going to be big.
I am a fan of stories with unreliable narrators, and Araminta Hall’s One of the Good Guys (Macmillan) is one of the best I have read in a long time. The story begins with Cole, who has recently moved to the coast following the end of his marriage. He is heartbroken over losing Mel and is attempting to start fresh without her. Cole is a caring and considerate person, known as one of the good guys. As the story unfolds, we, along with Cole’s new friend Lennie, a reclusive artist, hear about how Mel hurt him. Cole ponders, “I want to support and empower women, but does that mean I should let them walk all over me?” He also remarks, “I recognize that historically it has been difficult to be a woman, but right now, it’s equally hard to be a man.” We are also introduced to two young women protesting male violence by walking along the coastline. When they confront Cole, he tries to protect them. Hall expertly subverts our expectations and leads us astray, so I cannot reveal much more without spoiling the story. However, this exploration of female anger is not what you would expect.
Ashley Elston’s headline, “First Lie Wins,” introduces us to Evie Porter as she is introduced to her new boyfriend Ryan’s group of friends and is relentlessly questioned about her life. However, it becomes clear that Evie is not who she appears to be. She has schemed her way into Ryan’s life under the orders of her boss, the enigmatic Mr. Smith. But when she meets a woman at a party who seems to have taken on Evie’s true identity, she begins to suspect that her boss may be using her. Elston skillfully alternates between the present and the past, allowing us to see how Evie got caught up in a life of crime and how her past is finally catching up to her. The pacing is quick and full of twists, and Evie is a clever and engaging protagonist.
The Alaskan wilderness is the backdrop for Marie Vingtras’s captivating novel, Blizzard (published by Mountain Leopard Press). Translated into English by Stephanie Smee, the story follows Bess, a nanny who finds herself stuck in a snowstorm with the young boy she cares for. In the midst of the storm, she loses grip of his hand and he disappears. “I can’t see a thing. The snow is swirling around me and if I look up, all I see is white. The air is colorless, as if every hue has faded away, as if the entire world has been diluted in a glass of water.” Despite the harsh weather, a few neighbors brave the blizzard to assist in the search for the missing boy. Vingtras shares each chapter from a different perspective, gradually revealing the secrets held by each character as the search becomes more desperate. Winner of the French Booksellers award, this chilling and suspenseful novel is a must-read.