“Pleasantville” by Attica Locke (Harper, $27)
Along with writing her acclaimed novels, Locke coproduces the Fox TV drama “Empire.” She knows how to craft a compelling story. In Houston’s 1996 mayoral race, Pleasantville, Texas, a historic black neighborhood, has the “power to swing an election,” but when a campaign worker is murdered and the nephew of a well-connected family is charged with the crime, Jay Porter, the lawyer of Locke’s brilliant “Black Water Rising,” is dragged into the fray. This is a racially complex and intriguingly nuanced legal thriller.
“The Blondes” by Emily Schultz (Thomas Dunne, $26)
This chilling social satire gives a twisted meaning to the phrase “blondes have more fun.” A virus has turned blondes (natural and salon-created) into killers. Hazel Hayes narrates these mysterious events while hiding in a cabin in the woods where her neighbors burn hair. Creepy, right?
“The Well” by Catherine Chanter (Atria, $26)
With an unsettling narrator and a dystopian social vision (a drought of biblical proportions), this exceptional debut channels Margaret Atwood and Gillian Flynn, creating a story that’s speculative and suspenseful. The narrator, Ruth, returns to the Well (one of only a few homesteads in England with a water source) under house arrest and with armed guards. Chanter skillfully doles out details about Ruth’s crimes like slow drips from a leaking faucet, keeping us wondering until the end whether magic or madness is the source of the Well.
“Unidentified Woman #15” by David Housewright (Minotaur, $26)
The local author’s latest opens in a blizzard on Interstate 94 that’ll have you pumping your imaginary brakes when a body is tossed in front of Rushmore McKenzie’s Audi. “Unidentified woman #15” has no memory when she regains consciousness, but she believes the world is exactly the kind of “place where sooner or later” someone rolls “you off the back of a speeding pickup truck.” And here’s why I love McKenzie so much. Although he sees the world in a cynical way, he still tilts at windmills and fires stones from his slingshot. Housewright’s novels render the Twin Cities in familiar detail while helping us see things differently.
Housewright events: 7 p.m. June 9, Barnes & Noble, Har Mar Mall, Roseville; 2 p.m. June 13, Valley Bookseller, Stillwater; 6:30 p.m. June 17, SubText Bookstore, 6 W. 5th St., St. Paul; 6 p.m. June 23, Chapter 2 Books, Hudson, Wis.
“Finders Keepers” by Stephen King (Scribner, $30)
The premise of this follow-up to King’s Edgar-winning “Mr. Mercedes” (the novels intersect) may give authors a stab of anxiety when they face their readers. This isn’t “Misery,” but it does pivot on a murderous reader’s delusions, the contents of a safe and the “content of a writer’s mind.” King is in fine form, crafting a cool thriller with allusions to John D. MacDonald’s “The Executioners,” and the big theme that reading literature can change “a heart” (for good and bad — it’s King, after all).
“Let Me Die in His Footsteps” by Lori Roy (Dutton, $27)
Annie Holleran, the coming-of-age character in this impressive Southern Gothic tale, “knows a thing is coming before it has come.” It’s a “curse — or a blessing” that Annie shares with her Aunt Juna. Like her aunt’s, Annie’s eyes are black “through and through” and folks in rural Kentucky believe that’s where the “evil lives.” But can evil pass from generation to generation? The narrative moves with measured suspense between Annie’s story in 1952 and Aunt Juna’s in 1936. Author Lori Roy teases out tension so masterfully that, like Annie, we, too, know something bad is coming.
“The Convictions of John Delahunt” by Andrew Hughes (Pegasus, $25, on sale June 15)
While awaiting execution, John Delahunt, the narrator of this engrossing historical mystery set in 1840s Ireland, is forced to have his head examined. Literally. A phrenologist examines the shape of John’s scalp to determine the psychological motives for his crimes. While the doctor feels John’s Carnal Cleft, John wonders if the doctor might be “loath to scratch an itch, or fix his hat, lest he happen upon an unsettling trait” on his own head. Gallows humor and Dickensian details permeate Hughes’ debut, one that takes readers to the dark heart of a series of real crimes in Victorian Dublin.
“Marry, Kiss, Kill” by Anne Flett-Giordano (Prospect Park, $25, June 16)
Do not take this book on a plane ride because you’ll snort and snicker so much your seatmate may hurt you. This witty romantic mystery is packed with one-liners (“Donna Karan, the last shop on the road to Chico’s and death”) and sexy sparring between detective Nola MacIntire and her partner, detective Tony Andellotti. Set in Santa Barbara during a film festival awash in A-list celebs and the hoity-toity of town (including Susan, “a kidney stone with a voice box”), this debut kills.
“The Lost Concerto” by Helaine Mario (Oceanview, $28, July 1)
With undertones of a “melancholy nocturne” and the frantic tempo of Stravinsky’s “Dance of the Young Girls,” this is the kind of compulsive continent-crossing thriller that summer reading is all about. From the seclusion of her Boston music shop, Maggie O’Shea, a talented concert pianist, is mourning the death of her adored husband and the murder of her best friend. Revelations about both deaths eventually set Maggie on a quest to find a stolen journal, a missing musical manuscript and the whereabouts of a lost boy.
“The Devil’s Share” by Wallace Stroby (Minotaur, $26, July 7)
You’d expect the words “I would very much like … you to rob me” to be music to thief-for-hire Crissa Stone’s ears. And they are. Then the heist of looted Iraqi antiquities goes pear-shaped and Stone is on the run. But she’s a professional with mad skills. She’d run rings round Reacher. She knows she’s screwed up. So beware. Don’t insist she play by “big-boy rules,” then take advantage of her better nature. You may not live to regret it.
Carole E. Barrowman is a writer and professor in Milwaukee.