In today's world, you almost have to have more than one job to survive. My side hustle? Reviewing books and TV shows for a mystery and true crime website.
It's hardly a bad gig. I get free copies of upcoming books. I get to interview authors (Simone St. James) and actors (Sean Astin, Kevin Durand) I've long admired. It allows me to branch out and try novels I might otherwise never read, and it helps me reach my "100 books a year" goal on Goodreads.
Over the years, quite a few of the whodunits I've read for review have blown my mind. As a writer myself, I'm fairly observant when it comes to foreshadowing. I like to think I'm crafty enough to pick up subtle clues. I've a pretty good track record at sussing out the villains and motive before the climactic reveal.
But the following books? Had twists so surprising — and well done — that even I was bamboozled. If you're a fan of well-constructed mysteries with endings that make you go "OHHHHH," check out the following from your local library:
1. "THE WIFE AND THE WIDOW" by Christian White. Widow Kate's husband John was keeping secrets from her. Wife Abby's husband Ray has been acting strangely. When Kate realizes John never attended a medical conference in London, and Abby finds Ray's freshly washed clothes shoved in the trash, the women's lives are irrevocably changed — and the dangerous truth will only come out when those lives intersect.
Not only is "Wife" cleverly constructed, with a twist that unfolds so slowly you scarcely notice it until White slaps you in the face with its full ramifications, it's also beautifully written. "For her, the island represented a cold exclamation mark at the end of a sentence: whatever drama John was caught up in would be revealed, and her life would be up-ended. While the sentence was still open, there was still room for hope."
2. "STRANGERS AT THE GATE" by Catriona McPherson. A year into their marriage, Finn and Paddy Lamb are offered the world on a silver platter: plumb jobs and a home for a pittance in the small village of Simmerton. But mere days after arriving — and mere minutes after a cheerful dinner with the Dudgeons, their new bosses/landlords — the Lambs find the elderly couple dead on the floor.
Terrified of the police uncovering secrets from their pasts, they decide to leave and let someone else find the Dudgeons. But then a strange email is sent out that night from the dead man's computer, and Finn realizes this was more than a lovers' spat gone horribly awry.
Just when you think this story couldn't get more bizarre or Gothic, McPherson throws yet another spanner into the works. The supporting cast is full of suspicious strangers, from shut-in neighbors to a peculiar woman with albinism, and the oppressive and vivid atmosphere of Simmerton is thoroughly chilling.
3. "DEATH NOTICE" by Zhou Haohui. A vigilante known as Eumenides has returned after 18 years to publicly execute criminals the law cannot touch: those who are too powerful or rich or well-connected to face justice. The elite 4/18 Task Force is reassembled to capture him before he can cross another name off his growing online list, but their own dark secrets may prove as dangerous as their foe ...
Haohui is one of the three most popular suspense authors in China, and "Death Notice" is the first in a wildly successful trilogy that has already been adapted into a TV series. Filled with dirty cops, noble heroes, Chinese culture, mythology and grisly carnage, it's a story that frequently punches for the gut.
4. "BRING ME BACK" by B.A. Paris. It's been 12 years since Layla, the love of Finn's life, disappeared at a rest stop. All that was left behind was the tiny Russian doll she carried as a lucky talisman. Was she kidnapped? Did she run away? Or did Finn's awful temper get the best of him that night? Not even he knows for sure.
Now, just as he prepares to marry Layla's sister, Ellen, the past returns. He receives unsettling emails and finds Russian dolls around the house. Furious, frightened and still obsessed with thoughts of the vivacious woman he once loved, Finn sets out to find the truth.
It's impossible to read this book without drawing parallels with Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl," another thriller with unreliable (and often unlikable) narrators. And, like "Gone Girl," "Bring Me Back" has a helluva shocking ending.
5. "SOUL CAGE" by Tetsuya Honda. A severed hand and pool of blood found in a van prove to be linked to a decade-long insurance-and-suicide scam backed by a yakuza family in this multi-layered police procedural in the Reiko Himekawa series, a smash hit in Japan.
The hand's erstwhile owner, Kenichi Takaoka, was a middle-aged construction worker who was honest, hard-working and kind to his adoptive son Kosuke Mishima — but why was such a good man living under an assumed name? What led to such a violent attack, and where is his body now?
"Soul Cage" swings around wildly, in time and between perspectives, putting us in the shoes of heroes, villains and victims in equal turn. There's very little clear-cut morality here and plenty of blood; the climax proves to be both enlightening and tragic.
6. "THE BIG SHEEP" by Robert Kroese. In the dystopian, cyberpunk L.A. of 2039, bodyguard Blake Fowler and investigator Erasmus Keane are hired to find a cloned sheep and protect a possibly psychotic television actress who's been receiving warnings signed by a teddy bear (no, really). And, in true noir fashion, of course the two cases are linked. Just how is the big, shocking twist ...
"The Big Sheep" is a gonzo cocktail. One part Sherlock Holmes (Keane), one part Philip Marlowe (Fowler) and with a hefty dash of "Blade Runner" stylization and sensibilities, it also has humorous and philosophical flairs that wouldn't be out of place in Sir Terry Pratchett's Discworld series.
Frequently funny, action-packed and bizarre, it blends familiar tropes into something new — and potent enough to knock you on your backside.
• ANGIE BARRY is a page designer and columnist for The Times. To suggest future topics for The B-List, which covers pop culture, history and literature, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.