Ashley McClay is marketing director for Putnam. She lives in Jackson Heights with her husband and a tiny, very loud black cat who is constantly trying to gnaw her way-too-large home library to shreds.
Okay, I’m starting off my list with a few geopolitical thrillers. When I was younger, I wanted to be a spy–and while for some reason that never really came to fruition, it totally informs my reading tastes now. (Message to the CIA: if you do happen to be looking for publishing industry professionals with so-so schoolgirl French and the ability to run a mile in ten minutes or sometimes very slightly less, I am available on nights and weekends.)
Todd Moss, formerly the deputy assistant secretary of state, now the COO at the Center for Global Development, has all of the real-life experience needed to make his novels completely gripping, and, at the same time, totally realistic. His latest, Minute Zero, follows Judd Ryker, former professor and now state department advisor, as he tries to take advantage of a brief moment of chaos to change the course of world events. It’s smart, fast-paced, and totally impossible to put down. And the end left me pacing through the office, counting down the moments until the next book to arrives.
Next up: another thriller in a very similar vein. If you’re into shows like Homeland (and if you, like me, are kind of suffering from Homeland-withdrawal at the moment), you will love Matthew Palmer’s books, guaranteed. I’m kind of cheating here, because this one isn’t actually out for a little while. But trust me when I say that you should be lining up at your local bookstore for The Wolf of Sarajevo on May 24th, because this book is that good. Set mainly in the Balkans, Palmer — another author with diplomatic chops (25 year veteran of the foreign service and a member of the Council on Foreign Relations)–takes the reader on a whirlwind tour through the labyrinthine politics of the Balkans. I was half reading, half shielding my eyes through some of the most tense scenes. If you like twists that come out of nowhere (and what suspense reader doesn’t?), get on board.
Now for a totally different kind of mystery – M. J. Carter’s The Strangler Vine. Set in colonial 19th century India, following the sometimes bumbling but always good-hearted Avery, and his very begrudging “partner” (and I use that term quite loosely), master-of-disguise Blake, this is a tour-de-force. The historical Indian setting is captivating by itself; combined with Blake and Avery’s investigation into the elusive Thugee cult, and the profound British corruption sweeping across the continent, it’s completely impossible to put down. And if you start reading now, you won’t have too long to wait for more: Carter’s sequel, The Infidel Stain, is out in March.
Last, but not least, Tana French’s In the Woods. Again, a completely different sort of book from the last three, but one of my all-time favorites. If you wrote in to the Penguin hotline looking for suspense this year and got me, I am sure I recommended this to you. French’s lyrical writing grabbed me from the very first few pages, and the mystery of what happened to three children deep in the woods of Ireland one night in the 1980s kept me riveted all the way through. Rob and Cassie, two detectives working a present-day murder in those same woods, are both wonderfully drawn characters, and the nuanced story of their relationship is every bit as absorbing as the mystery plot.