Our picks for best crime, mystery and thriller books of August 2021 include Murder Most Fowl by Donna Andrews, Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke, as well as A Perfect Harvest by Bill Fitzhugh.
These mystery and thriller books will surely bring joy to avid crime fiction and mystery readers. (Note: For our coverage of best crime, mystery, and thriller books in previous months, please visit here).
The Barrister and the Letter of Marque by Todd M. Johnson (August 3). As a barrister in 1818 London, William Snopes has witnessed firsthand the danger of only the wealthy having their voices heard, and he’s a strong advocate who defends the poorer classes against the powerful. That changes the day a struggling heiress, Lady Madeleine Jameson, arrives at his door.
In a last-ditch effort to save her faltering estate, Lady Jameson invested in a merchant brig, the Padget. The ship was granted a rare privilege by the king’s regent: a Letter of Marque authorizing the captain to seize the cargo of French traders operating illegally in the Indian Sea. Yet when the Padget returns to London, her crew is met by soldiers ready to take possession of their goods and arrest the captain for piracy. And the Letter–the sole proof his actions were legal–has mysteriously vanished.
Moved by the lady’s distress, intrigued by the Letter, and goaded by an opposing solicitor, Snopes takes the case. But as he delves deeper into the mystery, he learns that the forces arrayed against Lady Jameson, and now himself, are even more perilous than he’d imagined.
Vortex (An FBI Thriller) by Catherine Coulter (August 10). Seven years ago, Mia Briscoe was at a college frat rave with her best friend, Serena, when a fire broke out. Everyone was accounted for except Serena, who was never seen nor heard from again. Now an investigative journalist covering the political scene in New York City, Mia discovers old photos taken the night of Serena’s disappearance and begins to uncover a sinister string of events going all the way back to that disastrous party.
Working with Sherlock, the secrets begin to unravel. But some very powerful—and very dangerous—people will do anything to keep them from learning the truth.
CIA Operative Olivia Hildebrandt is a team leader on a mission in Iran to exfiltrate a betrayed undercover operative. She’s nearly killed by an exploding grenade and saved by a team member. But by the time Olivia is released from Walter Reed Hospital, that team member and a critical flash drive he was carrying have disappeared. When Olivia is attacked on her first night home, Savich suspects that the strike is a direct result of the compromised mission and the missing team member and flash drive. But what intelligence was at stake and who betrayed them?
Farewell to the Liar by D.K. Fields (August 5). Detective Cora Gorderheim is a detective no longer. Stripped of her badge by the corrupt chief inspector, Cora’s job now is to protect her sister, Ruth, the new Wayward storyteller.
Ruth must tell her tale of the Tear widening if people are to know the truth of what’s happening in the Union of Realms. But Lowlander Chambers Morton wants the Wayward to change their election story, and will stop at nothing to achieve this – including murder.
Keeping Ruth alive in Fenest is hard enough, but when the sisters set sail for West Perlanse, the dangers come thick and fast. And slowly Cora realizes she must make a terrible choice: her sister’s life, or the future of the Union.
Partners in Lime by Bree Baker (August 31). It all seems to be smooth sailing for Everly Swan. The island of Charm, North Carolina is hosting tons of fun summer events, her iced tea shop is a hit, and best of all, she’s finally dating the handsome Detective Grady Hays. But their romantic bubble bursts when tragedy strikes: a surf-pro is found murdered on the beach, killed with a theater prop.
Grady follows the evidence, all of which points to Matt, Everly’s friend and one-time fling. As Grady does his job, so does Everly—her unofficial chef-turned-sleuth-job, that is. She’s determined to clear her friend’s name but the arrival of a fancy new teashop and The Town Charmer, a gossip blog determined to rock the boat, complicates things.
As Everly tries to keep rumors at bay and investigate the murder (and her new tea rival), the killer leaves a message in the sand.
Murder Most Fowl (A Meg Langslow Mystery) by Donna Andrews (August 3). In Murder Most Fowl, Meg Langslow’s in for a busy summer. Her husband is directing a production of Macbeth, and most of the cast and crew are occupying spare bedrooms in their house. She also has to keep an eye on Camp Birnam, where a group of medieval reenactors are commemorating the real-life Macbeth by setting up what they fondly believe is an authentic medieval Scottish military camp.
And then there’s Damien Goodwin, a filmmaker who has been hanging around, trying to document the production. When Goodwin hosts a showing of some of the footage he’s taken, he manages to embarrass or offend just about everyone. The next morning Meg isn’t exactly surprised to find that someone has murdered him.
But who? Some people’s motives were obvious from the footage: the couple whose affair was revealed . . . the bombastic leader of the reenactors, who could be facing years in prison if the evidence from the video helps convict him of sheep stealing . . . the actress who’s desperately trying to downplay a health issue that could cost her the role of her life. Other motives are only hinted at—did the filmmaker have other footage that would reveal why one of the actors is behaving so furtively?
Unfortunately, whoever murdered Goodwin also destroyed all the electronic devices on which his video was stored. So Caerphilly’s chief of police—and Meg—must rediscover the same secrets the filmmaker did if they want to catch a killer.
Loser Baby by Jason Bovberg (August 3). Jasmine Frank is missing. It’s a humid summer morning in Santa Ana, California, and her twin brother Jordan abruptly finds himself on a desperate search—fearing the worst. The party last night got way out of hand, and his brain is still chemically fried. But this is Jasmine’s story.
She’s awakened far from home to her own mystery: She’s unwittingly stolen something from the most dangerous person she’s ever known. Tommy Strafe. And now Tommy is raging through the sunbaked streets, gathering illicit forces to seek brutal retribution. But all Jasmine really wants is to get out of Orange County, escape her past, and find a measure of redemption.
Loser Baby is a propulsive blast through the streets of the SoCal melting pot, a breakneck dark-comic neo-noir populated by misfits and malefactors, criminals and innocents, down-and-outers and spun-out dreamers. Prepare yourself for an adrenaline blast of rat-a-tat he-said-she-said narrative twists—all in service of a giddily slam-bang shock ending.
Holdout by Jeffrey Kluger (August 3). When evil forces are going unchecked on Earth, a principled astronaut makes a spilt-second decision to try to seek justice in the only place she knows how—the International Space Station.
Walli Beckwith is a model astronaut. She graduated at the top of her class from the Naval Academy, had a successful career flying fighter jets, and has spent more than three hundred days in space. So when she refuses to leave her post aboard the International Space Station following an accident that forces her fellow astronauts to evacuate, her American and Russian colleagues are mystified.
For Walli, the matter at hand feels all too clear and terrifying for her to be worried about ruining her career. She is stuck in a race against time to save a part of the world that seems to have been forgotten, and also the life of the person she loves the most. She will go to any length necessary, using the only tool she has, to accomplish what she knows is right.
The Soul Breaker by Sebastian Fitzek (August 5). The Soul Breaker doesn’t kill his victims. What he does is much worse. He leaves them paralysed and completely catatonic. His only trace: a note left in their hands.
There are three known victims when suddenly the abductions stop. The Soul Breaker has tired of his game, it seems. Meanwhile, a man has been found in the snow outside an exclusive psychiatric clinic. He has no recollection of who he is, or why he is there.
Soon the weather goes from bad to worse, and the clinic becomes completely cut off from the world outside. When the head psychiatrist is found trembling, naked and distraught, with a slip of paper in her hands, it seems the Soul Breaker has returned. And with the clinic cut off from the world, no one is able to get in – or out.
A Perfect Harvest by Bill Fitzhugh (August 12). Given a terminal diagnosis (actually two of them) thirty-five year old Miguel Padilla decides he must accomplish something meaningful before death. He seizes on the idea of donating a kidney to save someone’s life. Then he decides: why stop there? Why not donate… everything? Why not indeed?
Another Kind of Eden by James Lee Burke (August 17). The American West in the early 1960s appears to be a pastoral paradise: golden wheat fields, mist-filled canyons, frolicking animals. Aspiring novelist Aaron Holland Broussard has observed it from the open door of a boxcar, riding the rails for both inspiration and odd jobs.
Jumping off in Denver, he finds work on a farm and meets Joanne McDuffy, an articulate and fierce college student and gifted painter. Their soul connection is immediate, but their romance is complicated by Joanne’s involvement with a shady professor who is mixed up with a drug-addled cult. When a sinister businessman and his son who wield their influence through vicious cruelty set their sights on Aaron, drawing him into an investigation of grotesque murders, it is clear that this idyllic landscape harbors tremendous power—and evil. Followed by a mysterious shrouded figure who might not be human, Aaron will have to face down all these foes to save the life of the woman he loves and his own.
The latest installment in James Lee Burke’s masterful Holland family saga, Another Kind of Eden is both riveting and one of Burke’s most ambitious works to date. It dismantles the myths of both the twentieth-century American West and the peace-and-love decade, excavating the beauty and idealism of the era to show the menace and chaos that lay simmering just beneath the surface.
Viral by Robin Cook (August 17). Trying to find some normalcy during the Covid-19 pandemic, Brian Murphy and his family are on a summer excursion in Cape Cod when his wife, Emma, comes down with concerning flu-like symptoms. But their leisurely return home to New York City quickly becomes a race to the local hospital as she suddenly begins seizing in the car.
At the ICU, she is diagnosed with eastern equine encephalitis, a rare and highly lethal mosquito-borne viral disease seemingly caught during one of their evening cookouts. Complicating the situation further, Brian and Emma’s young daughter then begins to exhibit alarming physical and behavioral symptoms, too.
Emma’s harrowing hospital stay becomes even more fraught when Brian receives a staggering hospital bill full of outrageous charges and murky language.
To add insult to injury, his health insurance company refuses to cover any of the cost, citing dubious clauses in Brian’s policy. Forced to choose between the ongoing care of family and bills he can never pay, and furious at a shockingly indifferent healthcare system, Brian vows to seek justice. But to get to the bottom of the predatory practices targeting his loved ones and countless others, he must uncover the dark side of an industry that has strayed drastically from its altruistic roots—and bring down the callous executives preying on the sick and defenseless before the virus can claim even more people.
The Killing Look by J.D. Rhoades (August 24). Civil War veteran L.D. Cade arrives in 1870s San Francisco, seeking his fortune and a place to end his restless wandering. A job as bodyguard to a flashy real estate speculator seems like just the opportunity he’s been looking for. But beneath the glitter and glamour of Gilded Age San Francisco lie festering greed, corruption, and intolerance. It’s a dangerous place for an honest man, even one who’s as good with a gun as Cade.
As he makes his way between the decadent chaos of the notorious Barbary Coast, the luxurious mansions of Russian Hill, and the secretive societies of Chinatown, Cade will face vicious and sadistic enemies, find allies in unexpected places, and encounter a pair of enigmatic women who will change his life forever.
Monte Carlo by Geoff Woodhouse (August 28). Carlo Boselli’s perfect life is shattered forever when his father is tragically killed in a helicopter accident, at the very moment when the family fortune is torn apart by the ravages of the financial crash, greed, addiction, corruption, scandal and toxic relationships. Monte Carlo is a story about the addiction of wealth, told through the lens of a modern-day Mercutio who gambled the family fortune on derivatives trading, property development and buying ships.
Born into extreme wealth, Carlo sets out to prove to his father that he is much more than an entitled playboy, making a fortune in Monte Carlo, and ordering new ships for the family shipping company at a time when the shipping markets are flying high. Boom turns to bust when the financial crisis sees the shipping markets crash, exposing the fragility of the whole enterprise. It turns out that the fortune is founded on sand, riddled with wildly speculative derivatives trading, undisclosed loans, corrupt management and compliant trustees.
Carlo’s siblings each play a role in the family tragedy, and his eventual redemption.. His sister Elisa establishes a successful art gallery in New York, before hooking up with a toxic New York property dealer who sucks some money out of the family business, and uses family assets to support his addiction to drugs and sex. Love eventually wins through, with Carlo’s wife Jacqueline supporting him through tragedy, bankruptcy and depression. Together they win and lose a fortune, but redeem their future.
The Fragile Edge by Suzanne Chazin (August 31). Jimmy Vega straddles two worlds – the hardscrabble Bronx where he grew up as the child of a Puerto Rican single mother, and the upscale, mostly white, suburban county where he now serves as a police detective. Yet despite his sense of never belonging, he’s a good and decent cop—even if the multi-million-dollar civil suit he’s facing says otherwise.
His own troubles take a back seat when Vega learns that a court officer has just been shot and killed while transporting a controversial judge across the courthouse lot. Vega quickly surmises that the judge was the real target. She’s earned the ire of alt-right hate groups for going soft on undocumented defendants accused of petty crimes. The sole witness to the sniper’s identity is a Guatemalan girl traveling by bus from the border. And now, she’s vanished—melted into a community fearful of the police. Her days are numbered if Vega can’t get to her before the killer does.
But as Vega and his girlfriend, Adele Figueroa, head of the local outreach center, probe deeper into the shadowy farm community where immigrants toil in horrifying conditions, they tap into a chilling discovery. One that offers Vega a stark choice: keep quiet and be lauded as a hero, knowing he let the real villain go. Or risk everything for an ugly truth no one wants him to find.
Coq au Vin by Charlotte Carter (August 31). Nanette’s life is finally getting back to normal when her mother calls her with some upsetting news: Nan’s beloved bohemian Aunt Vivian has gone missing. Normally this is par for the course with Viv, but this time the circumstances surrounding Vivian’s disappearance are rather troubling. Would Nan be up to brushing up on her French language skills and flying to Paris to track her down?
Would she ever. Now swanning about her favorite city, Nan has a hard time keeping her attention on the task at hand…especially after she meets handsome violinist Andre, a fellow street musician from Detroit. But trouble has a way of finding Nan, and her search for Vivian lands her in the underbelly of historic Paris and in the crosshairs of some of its most dangerous denizens.