Top Ten New England Suspense Novels

Top Ten New England Suspense Novels

I’m from New England, and something about the combination of landscape—craggy coastlines, blue-blood cities, university towns, and country roads winding into dark forests, and history—witch trials, whaling ships, the first constitution of the United States hidden in the hollow of an oak tree—has always made me wonder (and want to write about) what really goes on in the shadows of those prim white churches, stately granite libraries, and salt-silvered beach cottages.  My grandfather was also captain of detectives in Hartford, Connecticut, and that also might have something to do with it.  Here are a few of my favorite thrillers:

 

THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess Gerritsen

In this gothic tale of psychological suspense, Ava Collette runs away from a tragedy in Boston and rents Brodie’s Watch, an old mansion on the Maine coast where she hopes to find peace.  Instead she learns that every woman who has ever lived there has died, and it may or may not have something to do with the man who visits Ava at night—and who may or may not be the ghost of Captain Brodie.

 

THE WEIGHT OF WATER by Anita Shreve

Set on New Hampshire’s Isle of Shoals, this novel is based on the true-life Smuttynose murders. In 1873, two women were murdered and a third escaped the killer by hiding all night in a sea cave.  In present-day, a photographer comes to the island and becomes obsessed with the crime.  A riveting story of passion, guilt, betrayal, and gruesome murder.

 

PAST TENSE by Lee Child

Jack Reacher searching out his family roots?  Yes, right here in New England.  He is hitchhiking from Maine one his way west, when just over the state line in New Hampshire, he happens sees a sign for the town where his father was born.  He detours to the town hall where he’s told no family named Reacher has ever lived there.  While he stays to research the truth, a young couple checks into the local motel where Psycho meets Deliverance, New England-style.  Fortunately, Reacher is in town to find the answers and mete out justice.

 

ALMOST MIDNIGHT by Paul Doiron

The most recent in Doiron’s brilliant series featuring Mike Bowditch, Maine game warden.  Mike is called to the Maine State Prison to look into suspicions that an inmate—one of his oldest friends—has about a guard.  Meanwhile, a bow-hunter has shot Shadow, a wolf-dog Mike once rescued, and Mike investigates.  The storylines entwine and the suspense ratchets up as Doiron transport us with trademark eloquence into the wilderness of Maine and the darkness of prison culture.

 

GOD SAVE THE CHILD by Robert B. Parker

The novel where Spenser, the idealistic, irreverent private detective who lives-and-breathes Boston, first meets his true love Susan Silverman and his friend-on-the-force Lieutenant Healy.  He is hired by Kevin Bartlett’s parents to find their missing fifteen-year-old son.  What seems to be a case of kidnapping takes an even more disturbing turn, and Spenser and Susan, a psychologist, team up to understand the criminal, the boy, and his parents.  In spite of the wit we expect from Spenser, this is one of his darker cases.

 

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hepzibah Pyncheon opens a shop in her house to support herself and her brother Clifford, just home after thirty years in prison for murdering their uncle.  The house was built on property illegally gained by the Pyncheon family from Matthew Maule—falsely accused and later executed for practicing witchcraft.  In spite of the supernatural elements, the novel is full of family secrets and betrayal, emotional abuse and control—a domestic thriller about who really killed Clifford’s uncle.

 

AN ACT OF LOVE by Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer, doyenne of Nantucket fiction, sets this domestic thriller in a Massachusetts farmhouse.  Linda and Owen McFarland, married for seven years, have children from previous marriages.  Linda’s daughter Emily and Owen’s son Bruce are away at boarding school, but just before Thanksgiving, Emily attempts suicide.  She says Bruce raped her, and he denies it.  Layers of secrets and lies are peeled back with the family needing to know but terrified of the truth.

 

MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane

Unforgettable psychological thriller about three boys in the blue-collar East Buckingham section of Boston.  A strange car stops in front of them; one boy gets in, the other two do not, and their lives are changed forever.  Fast forward—Sean is a homicide detective, Jimmy is an ex-con, and Dave is dealing with demons and depression.  When Jimmy’s daughter is brutally murdered, the secrets and tragedies of the past collide with those of the present, the explosive effects of childhood trauma.

 

CHANCES ARE… by Richard Russo

Three college classmates, now in their sixties, return to Martha’s Vineyard where, in 1971, a young girl disappeared.  The title comes from the Johnny Mathis song—sung by Mickey, Lincoln, and Teddy (the “three musketeers”,) and Jacy, the girl who went missing, on the porch of the Chilmark house their last night together.  Russo is a brilliant writer, full of compassion and insight into his characters and the mystery they’ve been living with for all these years.

 

THE MAN WHO COULDN’T MISS by David Handler

Oscar-winning actress Merilee Nash is directing a play at Sherbourne Playhouse (standing in for Connecticut’s venerable Ivoryton Playhouse) with a cast of three—all equally famous classmates of Merilee’s from the Yale School of Drama.  When one of the actors is found murdered, Merilee calls on her ex-husband, Hollywood screenwriter Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag.  Hoagy has solved crimes in previous books of this wonderful series, and his investigation here is intricate and ingenious, with an insider’s look at the theater and film worlds.  (David was a top screenwriter before he turned his talents to writing novels.)

 

by Luanne Rice

 

I’m from New England, and something about the combination of landscape—craggy coastlines, blue-blood cities, university towns, and country roads winding into dark forests, and history—witch trials, whaling ships, the first constitution of the United States hidden in the hollow of an oak tree—has always made me wonder (and want to write about) what really goes on in the shadows of those prim white churches, stately granite libraries, and salt-silvered beach cottages.  My grandfather was also captain of detectives in Hartford, Connecticut, and that also might have something to do with it.  Here are a few of my favorite thrillers:

 

THE SHAPE OF NIGHT by Tess Gerritsen

In this gothic tale of psychological suspense, Ava Collette runs away from a tragedy in Boston and rents Brodie’s Watch, an old mansion on the Maine coast where she hopes to find peace.  Instead she learns that every woman who has ever lived there has died, and it may or may not have something to do with the man who visits Ava at night—and who may or may not be the ghost of Captain Brodie.

 

THE WEIGHT OF WATER by Anita Shreve

Set on New Hampshire’s Isle of Shoals, this novel is based on the true-life Smuttynose murders. In 1873, two women were murdered and a third escaped the killer by hiding all night in a sea cave.  In present-day, a photographer comes to the island and becomes obsessed with the crime.  A riveting story of passion, guilt, betrayal, and gruesome murder.

 

PAST TENSE by Lee Child

Jack Reacher searching out his family roots?  Yes, right here in New England.  He is hitchhiking from Maine one his way west, when just over the state line in New Hampshire, he happens sees a sign for the town where his father was born.  He detours to the town hall where he’s told no family named Reacher has ever lived there.  While he stays to research the truth, a young couple checks into the local motel where Psycho meets Deliverance, New England-style.  Fortunately, Reacher is in town to find the answers and mete out justice.

 

ALMOST MIDNIGHT by Paul Doiron

The most recent in Doiron’s brilliant series featuring Mike Bowditch, Maine game warden.  Mike is called to the Maine State Prison to look into suspicions that an inmate—one of his oldest friends—has about a guard.  Meanwhile, a bow-hunter has shot Shadow, a wolf-dog Mike once rescued, and Mike investigates.  The storylines entwine and the suspense ratchets up as Doiron transport us with trademark eloquence into the wilderness of Maine and the darkness of prison culture.

 

GOD SAVE THE CHILD by Robert B. Parker

The novel where Spenser, the idealistic, irreverent private detective who lives-and-breathes Boston, first meets his true love Susan Silverman and his friend-on-the-force Lieutenant Healy.  He is hired by Kevin Bartlett’s parents to find their missing fifteen-year-old son.  What seems to be a case of kidnapping takes an even more disturbing turn, and Spenser and Susan, a psychologist, team up to understand the criminal, the boy, and his parents.  In spite of the wit we expect from Spenser, this is one of his darker cases.

 

THE HOUSE OF SEVEN GABLES by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Hepzibah Pyncheon opens a shop in her house to support herself and her brother Clifford, just home after thirty years in prison for murdering their uncle.  The house was built on property illegally gained by the Pyncheon family from Matthew Maule—falsely accused and later executed for practicing witchcraft.  In spite of the supernatural elements, the novel is full of family secrets and betrayal, emotional abuse and control—a domestic thriller about who really killed Clifford’s uncle.

AN ACT OF LOVE by Nancy Thayer

Nancy Thayer, doyenne of Nantucket fiction, sets this domestic thriller in a Massachusetts farmhouse.  Linda and Owen McFarland, married for seven years, have children from previous marriages.  Linda’s daughter Emily and Owen’s son Bruce are away at boarding school, but just before Thanksgiving, Emily attempts suicide.  She says Bruce raped her, and he denies it.  Layers of secrets and lies are peeled back with the family needing to know but terrified of the truth.

 

MYSTIC RIVER by Dennis Lehane

Unforgettable psychological thriller about three boys in the blue-collar East Buckingham section of Boston.  A strange car stops in front of them; one boy gets in, the other two do not, and their lives are changed forever.  Fast forward—Sean is a homicide detective, Jimmy is an ex-con, and Dave is dealing with demons and depression.  When Jimmy’s daughter is brutally murdered, the secrets and tragedies of the past collide with those of the present, the explosive effects of childhood trauma.

 

CHANCES ARE… by Richard Russo

Three college classmates, now in their sixties, return to Martha’s Vineyard where, in 1971, a young girl disappeared.  The title comes from the Johnny Mathis song—sung by Mickey, Lincoln, and Teddy (the “three musketeers”,) and Jacy, the girl who went missing, on the porch of the Chilmark house their last night together.  Russo is a brilliant writer, full of compassion and insight into his characters and the mystery they’ve been living with for all these years.

 

THE MAN WHO COULDN’T MISS by David Handler

Oscar-winning actress Merilee Nash is directing a play at Sherbourne Playhouse (standing in for Connecticut’s venerable Ivoryton Playhouse) with a cast of three—all equally famous classmates of Merilee’s from the Yale School of Drama.  When one of the actors is found murdered, Merilee calls on her ex-husband, Hollywood screenwriter Stewart “Hoagy” Hoag.  Hoagy has solved crimes in previous books of this wonderful series, and his investigation here is intricate and ingenious, with an insider’s look at the theater and film worlds.  (David was a top screenwriter before he turned his talents to writing novels.)

Luanne Rice is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-four novels that have been translated into twenty-four languages. In 2002, Connecticut College awarded Rice an honorary degree, and she also received an honorary doctorate from Saint Joseph College. In June 2014, she received the 2014 Connecticut Governor’s Arts Award for excellence as a literary artist.

Several of Rice’s novels have been adapted for television, including Crazy in Love, for TNT; Blue Moon, for CBS; Follow the Stars Home and Silver Bells, for the Hallmark Hall of Fame; and Beach Girls, for Lifetime.

Rice is a creative affiliate of the Safina Center, an organization that brings together scientists, artists, and writers to inspire a deeper connection with nature—especially the sea. Rice is an avid environmentalist and advocate for families affected by domestic violence. She lives on the Connecticut Shoreline.

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