Summer is the most deliciously slow season, from beach (or pool) days stretching long to balmy outdoor drinks past sunset. That’s why it pairs so well with thrillers and mysteries—they go at such a fast clip, and you often have more time to read, that it’s like a summer reading wormhole.
That’s why we’ve spaced out these propulsive, engrossing summer reads; some are out now, while others will be waiting for you as the season unfolds. And the thrills vary, from serial killers to child stars and fake handbag rings to art heists (all the capers!) and secret affairs to mistaken-identity rideshares. Some (Portrait of a Thief and Counterfeit) already have TV deals in the works, but these books are so cinematic on their own that you don’t want to miss out.
Portrait of a Thief by Grace D. Li
Release Date: April 5 from Dutton
Remember those tongue-in-cheek tweets about how Oscar Isaac should play a rebooted Indiana Jones whose archaeological quests are about returning museum artifacts to the cultures from which they were stolen? While the Internet debated whether or not an existing franchise could make such an ambitious reversal, Li was writing an original heist about a team of Chinese-American undergrads stealing back what the West took while reckoning with their own complicated dual identities.
Yet there’s a point in her dynamic debut in which the quintet of self-taught art thieves sits down to watch Ocean’s Eleven and take notes—the kind of self-awareness I love seeing in stories like these.
I’ll Be You by Janelle Brown
Release Date: April 26 from Random House
The premise for Janelle Brown’s latest thriller sounds like an especially juicy bit of celebrity gossip, or the kind of plot you’d hear on a deep-dive podcast: Identical twins Samantha and Elli spend their childhood and adolescence on the TV screen, often inhabiting the same role until they’re basically one person. But after drug addiction by way of a failed career (Sam) and the decision to turn away from Hollywood (Elli) drives a wedge between them in adulthood, the only thing that could possibly reunite them is Elli’s bizarre disappearance.
After the supposed golden twin absconds to a spa in Ojai but leaves behind her newly-adopted two-year-old, a one-year-sober Sam must step out of her twin’s shadow… and, I’m hoping, fulfill the title with some nostalgic impersonation. At the very least, each twin narrates one half of their shared life story, telling it better than any journalist or podcaster could.
The Hacienda by Isabelle Cañas
Release Date: May 10 from Berkley
I’ve been trying to scratch the Mexican Gothic itch since finishing Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s take on Gothic horror, but what delights me about The Hacienda is how it also riffs on another distinctive classic of the subgenre. Set in the aftermath of Mexico’s War for Independence, Cañas’ debut has ghostly echoes of Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, as part-mestizo Beatriz Hernandez seeks a husband in order to marry out of her lower caste and provide for her widowed mother.
But despite charming widower Don Rodolfo Solórzano, Beatriz finds that her new husband’s home is less enamored of her: creepy sounds and mysterious happenings plague her nightmares and waking hours. The same goes for his dismissive household staff, with the exception of mestizo Padre Andrés, the only one willing to help her cast off this haunted house by way of exorcism. Just like Mexican Gothic, the supernatural seems to come in second to the horrors of colonialism and racism.
My Summer Darlings by May Cobb
Release Date: May 17 from Berkley
May Cobb follows up her dark debut The Hunting Wives with another scintillating tale of neighborhood intrigue in a northeast Texas town, this time by way of a trio of female friends and a shared obsession. Jen is back in her adolescent neighborhood following a nasty divorce; Cynthia is flailing in her seemingly perfect marriage; and Kitty is too busy with her own secrets to be there for the others. But when hunky Will Harding moves into the neighborhood’s most legendary home belonging to an old widower, the young bachelor ignites desire among the three soon-to-be forty-year-old wives and mothers.
But while each of the women would no doubt toast one another for a midlife crisis affair, when all three want the same man it’s more a cause for manipulation than celebration, as plenty of secrets start to find their way to the service.
Counterfeit by Kirstin Chen
Release Date: June 3 from William Morrow
Counterfeit is one of those books I’ve been dying to get my hands on since I saw the Publishers Marketplace announcement with the irresistible premise: Fortysomething Chinese-American lawyer Ava Wong, struggling both in her career and her marriage and role as mother, is dazzled when her old college roommate Winnie Fang sweeps back into her life, the nerd made over into a jetsetting sophisticate.
Her secret? A counterfeit luxury handbag scheme that needs someone as outwardly put-together as Ava on the Western side of things. But when Winnie vanishes and leaves Ava holding the bag, was she duped? Then again, wait til you read Winnie’s half of the story and find out what’s real about Ava and what’s a convincing fake.
The It Girl by Ruth Ware
Release Date: July 12 from Gallery Books
Ruth Ware’s taut whodunnits range in setting from lavish cruise ships and ski chalets to creaking old houses, but the recurring theme throughout her body of work is the dark knots binding even the seemingly tightest friendships. The eponymous It girl in her latest is April Clarke-Cliveden, a magnetic undergrad who draws in shy Hannah Jones during their first term at Oxford. But she also attracts the wrong kind of attention, winding up murdered before the year is out.
It’s not until a decade later, when Hannah and one of their Oxford chums Will are expecting their first child, that April’s supposed murderer dies in prison… and a journalist presents the shocking theory that he may not have killed her after all. You know where this is going—sounds like a dark academia tale of a group of schoolmates who might know more than they let on about the tragic fate of one of their own. Then again, though, it being a Ware mystery, we really don’t know what corners she’ll turn, especially riffing on a popular subgenre.
Just Like Home by Sarah Gailey
Release Date: July 19 from Tor Books
Sarah Gailey has adroitly woven suspense into science fiction and fantasy, from their murder mystery set at magic school Magic for Liars to last year’s clone thriller The Echo Wife. Their latest taps deeper into that opened vein of familial trauma by way of another heroine who would rather exhume her skeletons than stuff them in a closet. But Vera has perhaps the ultimate reason to dread returning to the Crowder House, her childhood home: Her father was a serial killer whose bodies literally made up the foundation of their lives. Even worse, some performance artist with an inexplicable entitlement to her father’s dark legacy has moved into the guest house and is retelling her story.
When notes in her father’s handwriting appear around the house, Vera isn’t sure if it’s worse to imagine the artist embodying her father—or the alternative. I love a thriller that engages with the current true-crime craze, especially when it calls out us readers for our morbid fascination.
Are You Sara? by S.C. Lalli
Release Date: August 9 from William Morrow
We’ve all (drunkenly or impatiently) jumped into the wrong Uber or Lyft, but the worst real-life consequence is a brief embarrassment at inadvertently stealing someone else’s rideshare. But in S.C. Lalli’s latest thriller, when Saraswati “Sara” Badhuri accidentally catches Sarah Ellis’ ride into the rich part of town, her return to her humbler side of the tracks reveals her new friend and name twin’s dead body.
Law student and part-time bartender Sara has no idea which one of them was the supposed target, but alternating chapters narrated by the dead Sarah will slowly tease apart whether their meeting was entirely random or if they have more in common than just a name. It’ll make you think twice the next time a car arrives to whisk you from day drinking to your next summer adventure.
Natalie Zutter is a Brooklyn-based playwright and pop culture critic whose work has appeared on Tor.com, NPR Books, Den of Geek, and elsewhere. Find her on Twitter @nataliezutter.