Kelly Strom | You can't trust anyone in these thrillers

Kelly Strom | You can't trust anyone in these thrillers

With the popularity of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" in 2012, tales of unreliable narrators and domestic subterfuge have been running rampant through the publishing world. And I, for one, have been reading as many as I can get my hands on.

Some people have tired of the genre, but a few authors have managed to keep even the most jaded reader on the edge of their seat. Authors like Alice Feeney, Sophie Hannah, B.A. Paris, Alice LaPlante, April Smith, Megan Abbott and Paul Hawkins have made it a staple at bookstores and libraries.

A few years ago, I reviewed a domestic suspense novel called "Disclaimer" by Renee Knight. The twists and turns in the plot were plentiful, and intoxicating. She has a new book out now, called "The Secretary," and one look at the cover should tell you what the theme is. The word SECRET is highlighted within the stated title. Buckle up kids, we're ready for quite a ride.

There are two main characters in "The Secretary," and neither one of them is very likable. Don't let that stop you from reading it, however, as the psychological twists and obsessions are what makes this novel great.

Christine Butcher is happily married with one daughter. In a position where she needs to find a job, she lucks into meeting the celebrated Mina Appleton. The wealthy heir apparent of the highly respected Appleton Supermarket chain, she is the face of the company and even has her own cooking show.

The company boasts that it is dedicated to treating its small farm suppliers and socially conscious shoppers fairly. But Christine learns its secrets. And keeps them close.

As somewhat of a personal assistant, Christine is expected to carry out a myriad duties with the utmost loyalty and discretion. In fact, Christine has become so devoted to Mina that it has caused the breakup of her marriage and the dissolution of her relationship with her daughter. Mina is the top priority. Always.

For 20 years, Christine watches, listens and studies everything there is to know about Mina and Appleton Foods. But her loyalty comes at a high price. Perhaps Christine isn't as meek and obedient as Mina thinks she is. There is a fine line between devotion and obsession.

"The Secretary" is a slow-burner. It starts out innocently enough, and the reader may not even catch some of the hints passed along the way. Small observations and actions build to a frenzied pace, as does the cutthroat world of the food industry.

What "The Devil Wore Prada" did for the fashion industry, "The Secretary" does to high-end grocery chains, dragging along with it loads of psychological suspense.

JoAnn Chaney, author of "What You Don't Know," brings us more suspense in her new novel "As Long As We Both Shall Live." Told in alternating timelines, this is the story of Matt and his two wives.

No bigamy here, he was first married to Janice, who died suspiciously in 1995 in a fire. It seems there was a break-in at the house, and then a terrible fire in the aftermath. A co-worker of Janice's was found a few miles away, shot dead. Based on Matt's story of events, it was assumed that the co-worker was responsible for the break-in and fire.

The story flips to 2018 when Matt and second wife Marie take a romantic weekend getaway to the Rocky Mountains. While climbing an unmarked trail, Marie falls off a steep precipice into a raging river. The rescue squad knows that no one would have survived that fall.

Could a man be that unlucky? To have two wives tragically and unexpectedly killed? Of course, fingers point toward the surviving spouse. As Matt states, "When a woman is murdered, it's probably the husband. Hell, anyone with basic cable and the slightest interest in the melodrama of true crime knows it."

So is that the answer? Entirely suspicious of Matt's actions, detectives Loren and Spengler want to know if Matt is just unlucky or a cold-blooded murderer.

They begin by digging into to every facet of Matt and Marie's 20-year marriage. They interview friends, co-workers and other parents and begin to see a twisted tale. Once you have a history with someone, it's awfully hard to simply break free. Did one of them want to break free?

Matt and Marie aren't the nicest couple on the block. In fact, one of the characters was described as "the piece of food that gets stuck in your teeth which you cannot get out." That doesn't sound real loving, does it?

There is a subplot involving the history of one of the police officers, which seems odd until the end, when connections are made plausible. Full of one twist after another, author Chaney has a good handle on what makes domestic thrillers so popular.

If you have a yen for suspense this week, these two novels will satisfy.

Kelly Strom is the collection manager at the Champaign Public Library. She orders books, ebooks, magazines, newspapers, audiobooks and CDs.

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