If 2020 were a literary genre, it would have to be scary, creepy and suspenseful reading.
Well, welcome to our annual Halloween reading list, where we feature scary, creepy and suspenseful books. The treat: These are all local authors. The trick: Don’t read them alone too late at night.
“Last Girl Standing,” by Lisa Jackson and Nancy Bush
We all knew them in high school: the queen bees who disdained everyone else, including one another. In “Last Girl Standing” (Kensington Publishing, 384 pages, $28.95 hardcover/$8.99 paperback), the queen bees at a high school in a Portland suburb modeled on the authors’ hometown of Lake Oswego are slowly realizing that someone is out to get them. Could there be a connection between the drowning of one girl shortly before graduation, the shooting of another on the night of their 10-year reunion, and the stabbing of the man who married one and slept with the others? “Last Girl Standing” is an increasingly tense race to find who’s doing the killing – and who’s going to survive.
“The Last Sister,” by Kendra Elliot
Kendra Elliot has made a career out of fast-paced, tightly plotted mysteries that take place in the Pacific Northwest, such as her Mercy Kilpatrick series, set in central Oregon, and her Rogue River novellas. Now she’s doing a Columbia River Series; the first title, “The Last Sister” (Montlake, 336 pages, $24.95 hardcover/$12.95 paperback) takes readers to the fictional Clatsop County town of Bartonville. When FBI agent Zander Wells arrives to investigate a double homicide and hate crime, he’s soon caught up in a local woman’s mysterious past as well. Her father’s killing two decades earlier is unsettlingly similar to the latest slayings, and then there’s her long-missing sister: What happened to her, and what did she know?
“Mason Mooney: Paranormal Investigator,” by Seaerra Miller
In this middle-grade graphic novel, we meet Mason Mooney, a brilliant young paranormal investigator who’s thrilled to finally be getting the crack at the local haunted mansion that he deserves. Well – that’s how he tells it. Turns out his rival wasn’t available, and he was Plan B. Rather than dwell on this slight by his client, a girl who’s been accused by her “meanie-butt” teenage sister of scrawling creepy graffiti, Mason forges ahead, with results that surprise even him. Kids will find “Mason Mooney: Paranormal Investigator” (Nobrow Press, 72 pages, $12.99) as entertaining as it is eerie, especially with its pert dialogue.
“The Missing Sister,” by Elle Marr
Paris isn’t just the City of Lights; it’s also the City of Crypts, as in the underground catacombs that hold the bones of an estimated 6 million people. When an American student who was doing research in the catacombs suddenly vanishes and then turns up dead in “The Missing Sister” (Thomas & Mercer, 299 pages, $15.95), her identical twin, Shayna, sets aside three years of estrangement and flies to France. In her sister’s apartment, Shayna finds a note in the twins’ secret code: “Alive. Trust no one.” The discovery sets her off on an increasingly hair-raising week that is definitely no one’s idea of a Paris vacation.
“Murder by the Sea,” by Deni Starr
Nine months after a quiet Oregon Coast town is rocked by a murder, the victim’s sister arrives to sort out her affairs and find out why someone would kill a woman whose life revolved around her job at an antiques shop. BJ McKay has a good reason for being so late: She’s just been released from prison, where she served time for a crime she doesn’t regret. When the local sheriff offers her neither sympathy nor information, BJ starts her own investigation, fueled by her ability to think like a criminal and her determination to obtain justice for her sister. Starr’s crisp prose and dialogue move “Murder by the Sea” (Launch Point Press, 184 pages, $15.95) along nicely.
“Nothing Bundt Trouble,” by Ellie Alexander
The cover of the latest book in Ellie Alexander’s cozy Bakeshop Mystery series shows a Walkman, a cassette tape and – is that a pineapple upside down cake? In “Nothing Bundt Trouble” (St. Martin’s, 336 pages, $8.99), Ashland pastry chef and amateur detective Juliet Capshaw starts channeling the 1980s after finding her late father’s journal about an unsolved hit-and-run from that decade. Juliet decides to finish her father’s quest to identify the killer and finds herself digging up some of Ashland’s most closely held secrets. Alexander lives in Vancouver, but her love for Ashland comes through strongly in this book, a poignant read after the Almeda fire that devastated the area in September.
“A Reasonable Doubt,” by Phillip Margolin
This is the strongest title yet in Margolin’s Robin Lockwood series, featuring a young Portland criminal defense attorney. In “A Reasonable Doubt” (Minotaur Books, 304 pages, $27.99), Lockwood enters the world of a magician with a sketchy history who is killed while performing his grand illusion, in front of an audience studded with people who have motives for making him disappear. Margolin, a former criminal trial lawyer himself, keeps the story moving with lean, entertaining prose, juggling an ambitiously large cast of characters while also keeping the reader guessing to the end.
“River Run,” by J.S. James
J.S. James launches the Delia Chavez Mystery series with “River Run” (Crooked Lane Books, 327 pages, $26.99), set in Oregon’s Polk County. A young sheriff’s deputy haunted by family trauma on the Willamette River must finally face the water if she wants to track down whoever is killing duck hunters (and collecting their trigger fingers). The sheriff isn’t making things any easier, as he’s covertly doing a little hunting of his own: bounty hunting, chasing a mysterious figure in a strange boat who’s plying the same stretch of the Willamette where hunters are dying. James, who grew up hunting in Oregon, creates a richly detailed world on the water; his dialogue in particular stands out.
“Shallow Waters,” by Kay Jennings
Matt Horning, the new police chief in the fictional Oregon coast town of Port Stirling, hasn’t even been officially sworn in yet when he’s called to a murder scene. A little girl has been found fatally stabbed – and bitten – on the beach. And she’s the mayor’s youngest child. In this brisk, instantly engaging police procedural, Horning must plunge into an investigation involving a family whose remaining five members all come off a little suspiciously, with a law enforcement team he’s never met before. And there’s the matter of why he left Texas to begin with, which someone in “Shallow Waters” (Paris Communications, 348 pages, $16.99) is bound to bring up sooner or later.