February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

Secret Societies, Psychopaths, and Murder | Adult Books 4 Teens

memorandom-de la motteAn unreliable narrator with amnesia, a secret society orchestrating conspiracies, a decades-old mystery springing back to life, a group of strangers mysteriously connected to a viral video, and a psychopath working for the district attorney but turning to a life of crime: the novels reviewed below contain just about every ingredient we’ve come to know and love in contemporary suspense thrillers, whether on TV, in movies, or in literature. So they offer a pretty dynamic cross-section of popular fiction.

For our amnesiac narrator, we turn to Anders de la Motte’s MemoRandom (a Swedish import—yet another popular trend of the last decade). David Sarac’s amnesia is particularly inconvenient, since his job is recruiting informants from the underworld of organized crime for the Stockholm Police Department. Now he has to recover from a coma, attempt to finish the case he was in the middle of cracking when his car crashed, and avoid corruption on both sides of the law, all while trying to remember how much everyone involved knows about him. De la Motte has already wowed us with his “Game” trilogy (HarperCollins), and his publisher promised that MemoRandom is the first of two novels, so look for more breakneck suspense in the near future.

Organized crime is one thing, of course, but those pesky, centuries-old secret societies are another thing entirely. Cassie Blackwell, the protagonist of Ann A. McDonald’s The Oxford Inheritance, isn’t scared, though: she’s come to Oxford looking for the society that she believes holds the answers to her mother’s insanity and suicide. If MemoRandom brings to mind Stieg Larsson comparisons (and it does in the review below), the obvious touchpoint here is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code, still casting its long, conspiracy-minded shadow over suspense fiction after all these years. Like Brown’s novels, The Oxford Inheritance may not hold up to logical scrutiny, but teens will have too much fun to care.

Of course, the past doesn’t have to be centuries old to come back to haunt you. In Stuart Neville’s newest “Belfast” novel, Those We Left Behind, DCI Serena Flanagan is haunted by a case from seven years ago. Flanagan helped get a murder confession from 12-year-old named Ciaran Devine, an admission that helped mitigate the sentence of Ciaran’s older brother Thomas. Now Ciaran is being released from prison, and Flanagan—who was always half-convinced that Thomas was the true murderer—finds herself re-embroiled in the case, trying to help Ciaran escape Thomas’s influence. Bringing together a cold case, a young adult parolee, and a complicated family dynamic, this work should make for powerful reading.

Mohr_All this lifeWhile the above novels hearken back to turn-of-the-21st-century models, Joshua Mohr’s All This Life catapults readers directly into the current moment of social media, where anything in life can be instantaneously viewed the world over. Mohr takes two common enough occurrences in social media—a shocking event on the Golden Gate Bridge is filmed and goes viral, and a young woman’s boyfriend posts a sex tape online against her will—and uses these two modern touchstones to bring together a large cast of characters and examine a wide range of cultural ethics in this sprawling literary triumph.

Don’t worry—I haven’t forgotten that I promised you a psychopath. Mark Pryor’s Hollow Man features Dominic, who—with shades of Dexter—works for the district attorney no less. But when Dominic’s life starts to fall apart, his psychopathy makes it easy for him to turn criminal, and he becomes involved in a supposedly simple heist to make some quick money. But has there ever been an easy heist in the world of fiction? Hollow Man is no exception, as things quickly go off the rails. Once again, sharp twists and emotional heft easily outweigh the book’s tendency to strain credulity.

All in all, these novels touch right on the pulse of contemporary suspense, with high-concept plot, abounding twists and turns, and up-to-the-minute cultural touchstones. Teenagers should be more than sated in their need for thrills and suspense.

DE LA MOTTE, Anders. MemoRandom. 407p. Atria/Emily Bestler Bks. 2015. pap. $17. ISBN 9781476788067.
David Sarac is a member of the Intelligence Unit of the Stockholm police force and has been charged with recruiting and managing organized crime informants. One of these informants seems to be linked to some very scary situations and high-level people. His identity is top secret; Sarac is the only one who knows the informant’s code name. This makes crime-solving very tricky because Sarac is currently recovering from a coma and has lost most of his memory. As he struggles to regain his health and memory, he must also stay alive and work his way through a complicated web of corrupt lawmakers and the powerful organized crime syndicate of Sweden. This thriller is full of unforgettable characters, such as Atif, an Iraqi policeman who came back for his brother’s funeral only to discover his brother may have been murdered by the mob he had left behind, and Jesper, the smooth-talking lawyer who is trying to cover up his own crime while embroiled in the prosecution of others. Readers will devour the intricacies of this thrilling crime novel and will hurriedly turn the pages until its denouement. VERDICT For teen fans of Stieg Larsson’s “Millennium” series (Knopf) and de la Motte’s “Game Trilogy” (Atria).–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey

Oxford inheritance_macdonald_MCDONALD, Ann. The Oxford Inheritance. 288p. William Morrow. Feb. 2016. Tr $25.99. ISBN 9780062203670.
American Cassie Blackwell is a new student at Oxford University, but she is there for more than a first-tier education. Cassie is hiding a lot of secrets about who she is and how she got there. Mostly, the teen is hiding that her mother went to Oxford before she fled to America to have a baby. Her mother also went insane and killed herself when Cassie was 14. While digging to uncover her mother’s past and find out her father’s identity, Cassie also begins to unearth a dark secret held at the university itself. After her roommate commits suicide, the protagonist becomes embroiled in a greater mystery with complicated layers, including a secret society and centuries of power, intrigue, and murder that are all seemingly embedded with the very foundation of Raleigh College at Oxford. While trying to investigate and simultaneously manage the attentions of men who may not be all that they seem, Cassie discovers that the dark arts are playing a role in her life. The obvious holes in the plot of this gothic mystery and the ever increasing necessity to suspend disbelief are far outweighed by the gripping story line, magnetic characters, and wonderfully detailed description of student life at Oxford. VERDICT A solid choice for collections everywhere, especially those looking for page-turning thrillers with teen appeal.–Jake Pettit, Enka Schools, Istanbul, Turkey.

MOHR, Joshua. All This Life. 296p. Counterpoint. 2015. Tr $25. ISBN 9781593766030.
As he commutes with his father into San Francisco, 14-year-old Jake captures a shocking scene on the Golden Gate Bridge on his iPhone. He posts it online, as part of his online persona, and it quickly goes viral. Because of this attention, Jake knows that his worth as an online personality has now reached its peak, and he wants to claim the fame that he is sure is his. His actions spark the events that bring together the novel’s large cast of characters: 18-year-old Sara, living in nowhere Nevada, who learns that a sex tape made with her (now ex) boyfriend Nate has gone viral and can’t wait to get away from the humiliation and anger it brings; Rodney, Sara’s long-time friend, sidelined by a stupid prank that left him speech impaired and ready to get answers from the mother who left him after the accident; Rodney’s mother, Kathleen, now living in San Francisco as a caricature artist and three years sober, who longs to reconnect with her son but can’t take that first step; and Noah911, who has seen Jake’s video and recognizes his connection with the action on the bridge. How these characters intersect becomes a satisfying tale of redemption and forgiveness. Mature teens who recognize the dark irony that threads this story— that the connections made online are not necessarily reliable—will enjoy the triumph that can come only from the caring that happens in real life. VERDICT A suspenseful read for older teens.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Neville_Those We Left BehindNEVILLE, Stuart. Those We Left Behind. 320p. Soho Crime. 2015. Tr $27.95. ISBN 9781616956363; ebk. ISBN 9781616956370.
Irish writer Neville brings DCI Serena Flanagan back on the job after she has recovered from breast cancer. Her first case involves 20-year-old Ciaran Devine, who, seven years prior, at age 12, confessed to the murder of his stepfather. He is released to a group home and will be under the care of Probation Officer Paula Cunningham. Flanagan—the officer in Ciaran’s original case— is sure that it was Thomas, Ciaran’s older brother, who committed the murder, and when a skirmish in the group home brings Flanagan back into Ciaran’s life, she reflects on what might have gone wrong in the initial investigation and how to bring Thomas to light as the true murderer. But Ciaran, deeply tied to his sibling, refuses to answer any questions and sticks by his confession. The young men have a stepbrother, Daniel, who has been following their movements from afar and now waits for the right moment to confront them for killing his father. He has been slowly unraveling since his father’s death and unknowingly sets into motion the series of events that force DCI Flanagan to work even harder to release Ciaran from the bounds that Thomas has tied. She is thwarted at every corner by stifling rules, as well as the determination of three young men to be left alone with their secrets and their dreams of revenge. VERDICT Teen fans of mystery and psychological thrillers will root for Ciaran, hoping that he can overcome his circumstances.–Connie Williams, Petaluma High School, CA

Pryor_Hollow ManPRYOR, Mark. Hollow Man. 271p. Prometheus/Seventh Street Bks. 2015. pap. $15.95. ISBN 9781633880863.
Fans of characters such as TV’s Dexter, Sherlock, and House will take a shine to Dominic, a British expat living in Austin, TX, and working for the DA’s office. He’s having a terrible day: he has to switch to a job that pays less money, and he’s barred from playing in a local club. On the plus side, there’s a mysterious woman he takes an interest in— she’s intriguing, sexy, and the older sister of a boy appearing in juvenile court, where Dominic happens to work. They, and his friend Gus, begin to plan a heist, one that seems simple and will solve Dominic’s money woes. Of course, nothing goes as planned, and the protagonist has to tidy things up if he’s going to avoid detection and jail. The twists and complications are a little fanciful, but readers will enjoy the mix of legal information and heist. Is Dominic a psychopath? His lack of emotion and empathy might suggest yes. Will he get the girl? Teens will happily read on to find out. VERDICT A great choice for those who want more suspense than mystery and who don’t feel they have to empathize with or like the main character.–Laura Pearle, Milton Academy, MA

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Mark Flowers About Mark Flowers

Mark Flowers is SLJ’s Adult Books 4 Teens cocolumnist and a supervising librarian at the Rio Vista (CA) Library.

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