Pregnancy is a driving force in this month’s crime fiction. Shannon Kirk’s riveting debut novel, “Method 15/33,” features kidnapped pregnant teen Lisa Yyland. Inwardly she scorns and ridicules her captor, all the while pretending to be terrified and cowed into submission. Her greatest assets are intangibles: a steel-trap memory and an ability to literally switch her emotions on and off. Readers will see parallels between Lisa and Lisbeth Salander from “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo,” both victims who refuse to be victimized.
Villains include her smelly, vicious jailer and a doctor who will determine the optimum moment to take her baby. They need to suffer, she tells herself as she methodically stockpiles “assets” (a floorboard, a bucket, a blanket, a pencil sharpener) and catalogs “methods” she might use, savoring her future revenge as she nears full term. She’s determined to take them out before they can take her baby.
It turns out Lisa is the latest in a series of missing pregnant teens, snatched from their Midwest suburban neighborhoods over the last 15 years. FBI Special Agent Roger Liu and Lola, his colorful partner — “she promoted herself above me and above the rank of God” —
The story gathers steam as it goes along, and the reader soon becomes attached to quirky Lisa. So it’s nice to know early on that she’ll survive her ordeal (she narrates the story from 17 years in the future). The question is how, and watching the answer unfold is like watching a wondrously complicated, well-oiled Rube Goldberg contraption in action. Welcome a thrilling new voice in crime fiction.
By Shannon Kirk
Oceanview, 258 pp., $26.95
“The Blondes” promises a satirical thriller in which a global pandemic turns women with blond hair into violent raving lunatics. The pregnant narrator — the book’s conceit is that she’s talking to her unborn child — is redheaded graduate student Hazel Hayes. She is working on a dissertation in “aesthetology,” “the study of looking,” which she tells us grew out of a partnership between Harvard School of Anthropology and (wink, wink) Empire Beauty Schools. Hazel has just discovered she’s pregnant, and her thesis adviser is her baby’s father.
Hazel is waiting for the F train in New York when she witnesses one of the first outbreaks of what the press will dub “Gold Fever,” “California Rabies,” and “Suicide Blondes.” A blonde (“She had the chiselled chin of an older woman who maybe had had some work done”) drags a girl down onto the subway tracks with gruesome results. Soon blondes are going berserk worldwide.
Is it mass hysteria or a viral epidemic with a genetic component? Religious zealots declare it God’s punishment for vanity. Whatever it is, it’s deadly, and centers are set up at border crossings where “at-risk travellers” have their heads shaved and are quarantined.
The high-concept setup is all there, the voice sardonic. But after the first 100 pages, the story meanders from episode to episode, shifting back and forth in time as if the author has randomly shuffled two story lines. Any tension that builds is repeatedly punctured when the narrator telegraphs what’s coming next. (“I didn’t know then that this would be our last correspondence.”)
And the ending? Well, it just ends. Not with a bang, as they say.
Kimberly McCreight is carving out a niche for herself with mystery novels that feature neurotic hipsters and their children, their lives of suburban entitlement rife with vipers.
By Emily Schultz
Thomas Dunn, 400 pp., $25.99
“Where They Found Her” is set in Ridgedale, a New Jersey college town where Molly Sanderson lives with her college professor husband and young daughter. Molly is traumatized in the wake of a miscarriage. She’s quit her job as a lobbyist for the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and becomes a reporter for the local paper. Immediately she finds herself covering a newborn found dead in a creek. The assignment will either give her renewed strength and purpose or send her over the edge.
This is one for readers who relish multiple storylines, multiple timelines, and multiple narrators. Along with Molly’s first-person narrative there is a crazy quilt of third-person narratives, Molly’s newspaper articles along with their online comments, and transcripts of Molly’s sessions with her therapist. Clues and red herrings are sprinkled everywhere, and reading this book is like watching someone slowly and deliberately set up pieces on a chessboard until finally it becomes evident how they connect.
WHERE THEY FOUND HER
By Kimberly McCreight
Harper, 336 pp., $26.99Hallie Ephron’s is author of the New York Times bestseller “Night Night, Sleep Tight.” Contact her through www.hallieephron.com.