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These Novels Shuffle Tropes Like Cards


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Like a horoscope, everybody has a trope. For you, there’s a word, a phrase, a trope that makes you pick up a book every time. “Unreliable narrator.” “Death in a locked room.” “Gaslighting.” “Madman on the loose.” “Unjustly accused.” You know what works for you, and it doesn’t matter how often you read it, you love seeing how a skilled author crafts the time-worn trope into a new, fresh story.

As a writer, the fun comes in my current release, POINT LAST SEEN, when I shuffle tropes like a tarot deck. On a wild, rugged Big Sur California beach a woman washes in on a wave, not breathing, no heartbeat, a ring of bruises around her throat. She’s revived by a “tortured protagonist,” Adam, isolated and tormented by his past actions (and inactions), but she has no memory of her past other than part of her name, Elle. “Amnesia!” you say. Exactly. Elle doesn’t know who tried to kill her. It could be anyone in nearby Gothic, the “quaint, isolated village where everyone is a suspect,” a classic trope Agatha Christie many times employed to perfection.

But what to read when you finish POINT LAST SEEN? Dip into this marvelous list of tropes and suspense:

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THIN ICE by Paige Shelton

I met Paige while autographing with her at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Arizona, and I was instantly drawn to her mystery THIN ICE. It’s set in Alaska (like my suspense WRONG ALIBI), and it embraces every small-town trope readers love: isolation, unpredictable weather, everyone knowing everyone else’s business. There’s also a superfan’s obsession driving the heroine to hide out in Benedict (and underpinning the story with fear and flashbacks), and the mystery of a suicide that isn’t convincing the police chief. A writer with a head injury hiding out in a tiny town in Alaska combined with great character development made this a page-turner.

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WHEN STARS COLLIDE by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

This “opposites attract” story is a lighthearted romantic comedy with a mystery to keep us all grounded, and I finished it in one sitting. Olivia Shore is a standoffish opera singer; Thaddeus Owens is a hardworking jock. Paired together against their will to promote a luxury brand, the sparks fly – not always in a good way. I’ve read all of Phillips’s novels in the Chicago Stars series (this one is number 9, but this could easily be read as a standalone). A frothy beach read!

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GREEN DARKNESS by Anya Seton

Maybe it’s wrong for someone who has written some form of romance for this many years to enjoy a doomed romance this much. But GREEN DARKNESS ticks so many boxes for me. There’s reincarnation and past lives (taking us to Tudor England in the reign of Edward VI) and the kind of twist you never see coming. But will the protagonist get her happy ending? An oldie but goodie!

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GUILD BOSS by Jayne Castle

The fourteenth novel in Jayne’s super successful Ghost Hunters series, GUILD BOSS was amazingly fun! It’s futuristic romantic suspense set on the colony world of Harmony in Illusion Town, a western set in space or as Gene Roddenberry pitched Star Trek “Wagon Train to the stars!” Lucy Bell may well be a damsel in distress, but she doesn’t need saving, even from Guild Hunter, Gabriel Jones. GUILD BOSS hits the high notes with kidnapping, murder, and chemistry between the lead characters that leaps from the page.

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ONE BY ONE by Ruth Ware

I’m a sucker for any reworking of an Agatha Christie story, and ONE BY ONE is no exception. A retelling of AND THEN THERE WERE NONE, the claustrophobic, trapped feeling kept me turning the pages long into the night. A corporate group staying in a ski chalet is snowed in after one of their group doesn’t return from the last ski run. As more members die and everyone at the chalet is a suspect, the whodunit aspect combines with a battle against the elements to escalate the tensions to a breaking point.

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THE HOMEWRECKERS by Mary Kay Andrews

A summer read that made me laugh out loud more than once, THE HOMEWRECKERS turns the trend of flipping houses on its head. Mary Kay pulls you in with her descriptions of the swampy Georgia weather and the historic homes of Savannah. And she keeps you turning the pages with a fish out of water Hollywood producer and spine-tingling danger when someone works to derail the project. Combining a dangerous mystery with a will they/won’t they trope? Yes, please!

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HER DARK LIES by J.T. Ellison

A pitch perfect reworking of Daphne Du Maurier’s REBECCA (with a twist!), HER DARK LIES has a heroine with a troubled past, a hero with a dark secret, and a storm that isolates all the guests of their wedding on a remote island off the Italian coast. I was hooked from the start. Scandal, suspense, a mystery surrounding the first wife’s death. Skeletal remains and someone who wants to stop the wedding at any cost. Another amazing thriller from the incomparable J.T!

There you have it, a marvelous list of suspense novels to entertain you in the summer’s heat. Embrace your trope. Exalt your trope. Find the stories that appeal, grab a fan, a tall glass of iced tea, and enjoy heart-pounding tales of megalomaniac villains, amateur detectives, attempted murder, cozy and sinister villages, and read your way from summer to autumn…and beyond.

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Michael Neff
Algonkian Producer
New York Pitch Director
Author, Development Exec, Editor

We are the makers of novels, and we are the dreamers of dreams.

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