Two Gripping Thrillers

A great deal of attention has been paid to the need to escape from the constant anxiety of each day’s news, especially during this past year of the pandemic. You can turn off notifications on your phone and avoid reading the news online but it will still find you, somehow.

Streaming TV has been the most widespread diversion for most, but these days one has to dig deeper into Netflix, Amazon Prime, Hulu et al. to find something truly engaging. And even at its best, TV has a hard time matching the kind of transcendent escape provided by a really engrossing book.

I’m going to recommend two such books, each of which provides a wonderful diversion from daily tasks and worries. Both generate plenty of tension but it’s good tension—the kind that keeps you turning pages and temporarily rising above whatever happened in the wider world today. Both books are thrillers (though they’re quite different), and both are very well-written, and featured on last year’s New York Times100 Notable Books” list.

A new twist on noir. Image:
A new twist on noir. Image:

S. A. Cosby’s Blacktop Wasteland is a thoroughgoing delight—if you like classic noir, you’ll love this book. Set in Virginia, its depiction of criminals and criminal life in the South reads as completely authentic. The novel’s protagonist, Beauregard “Bug” Montage, is torn between his past life as a getaway driver extraordinaire and his current desire to live as a good citizen, husband and father. The tension between these two roles helps fuel a fast-moving plot that grabs you tight and won’t let go. Full review here.

A nasty piece of work. Image:
A nasty piece of work. Image:

Lawrence Osborne’s The Glass Kingdom is an altogether different kind of thriller, and a nasty piece of work it is (I mean that as high praise). This novel’s setting is bustling, shadowy, dangerous Bangkok, where 30-something Sarah Mullins winds up after scamming $200K using the reputation of a famous American author. Sarah gravitates to a high-end collection of high-rises known as the Kingdom, supposedly secure from the chaos and growing civil unrest on the streets of Bangkok below. There she mingles with other expats from around the world, all of whom have sketchy backgrounds of their own. The book’s tension builds steadily and becomes almost unbearable toward the end. Full review here.

Read either or both of these novels and enjoy a well-deserved vacation from the news cycle. Have a good trip!

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