Psychological thrillers are all the rage this summer, giving traveling, beach-going, and backyard readers a reason to settle in and get fixated on a good scare. Whether it’s hardcover, paperback, or e-book, you’ll want to add a gripping title or two from this list to your summer reading list.
Following the 2012 release of my nonfiction book, “Real Moms Love to Eat” (Penguin/NAL, 2012), I started to transition from reading health and wellness books in my spare time back to suspense thrillers — my post-college faves. My all-time favorite, Agatha Christie’s “Murder on the Orient Express,” kick-started my whodunnit passion. The memorable line, “The murderer is with us — on the train now…” strikes to the core of what a mystery thriller is all about. The killer, bad guy or attacker is close at hand. When writing my debut suspense thriller, “Pink Slips,” my aim was to introduce a handful of characters who could be the stalker — people who are a part of Betsy Ryan’s everyday life — to keep the reader guessing.
A bit more about “Pink Slips”:
This gripping and emotional debut novel, “Pink Slips” tells a spine-tingling and harrowing story of survival, friendship, doggedness and love. The inimitable power of the relationship between Betsy Ryan and her beloved dog, Barney, gives this suspense thriller soft spots to counter the uncertainty and intense action.
Betsy Ryan is pregnant with her third child, and receiving threatening notes from an unknown person. During what should be a joyful time in her life, she’s forced to face a decade old memory, and relive one of the most devastating nights of her life. To uncover the mystery behind the threats, she enlists the help of an unlikely, but oddly reliable source, her dog Barney. The menacing notes continue to arrive, while her husband is out of town for work, and she struggles to keep her composure while shielding her two young sons from danger. She trusts no one except her parents, best friend Misty, and her extraordinary dog — who has proven to literally understand everything she says. Is this person out to harm her? And how do they have so much personal information about Betsy? She can’t help but think it’s the same person who attacked her at the train station almost a decade ago, and changed the course of her life forever. To save herself and her unborn child — Betsy must face her fears and find her strength, to reveal who is after her and most importantly… why.
Much like what one of my favorite suspense writers, Dean Koontz (favorite title: “Watchers”), likes to do, I also have a lovable canine in my book. Barney the brown cocker spaniel is Betsy Ryan’s constant companion, and when things get tense, he’s always nearby to offer a supportive chuff or two.
Be sure to check out an excerpt from “Pink Slips,” runner-up in the San Francisco Book Festival and nominated for a global E-Book Award, below as well as hear what the critics are saying about it.
Looking for more must-read suspense thrillers this summer? Here are five page-turners I couldn’t put down:
- “I See You” by Clare Mackintosh
- “You Belong to Me” by Colin Harrison
- “Fractured” by Catherine McKenzie
- “The Marriage Lie” by Kimberly Bell
- “The River at Night” by Erica Ferencik
An excerpt from “Pink Slips,” released June 2017:
A recorded message blares over the loudspeaker, announcing the incoming train’s arrival. The Metra clanks down the rails and makes a scraping halt inches from where I’m waiting on the gusty platform. In my peripheral vision, I catch a glimpse of a tall man wearing a dark bomber jacket and knit hat, staring right at me — giving me a chill. His random screams, directed up at an indefinite spot above us, cause me to jolt in place. The other people on the platform are ignoring him, too, knowing that when you engage with a crazy person, it only incites a conflict.
Don’t look at him, Betsy.
My heart is hammering as I avoid eye contact. I turn to face the train and pause, waiting for the doors to open — keeping my senses vigilant.
Sheets of heavy rain whip past the wall of the station house and the tracks, flecking my pant legs like bullets. I scan the platform, trying to locate anyone of authority just in case this person decides to attack. Not sure I can count on my fellow passengers.
I clutch a folded slip of paper containing a phone number, protecting it from the stray droplets. My call to the dog breeder earlier today went to voicemail, so I need to keep her information handy to call her from the train. I don’t want to lose this puppy to another family who calls her first. Despite the chill in the air and my concern about the screaming man watching me, the warmth inside my heart gives way to giddy butterflies, anticipating our new arrivals. Soon I can share the truth with Steven. Two newborns will be joining our family — a puppy to surprise him and in seven months, our new baby. Once he gets used to the idea of the pregnancy, he’ll come around. He always does. He’s been on the fence about starting a family, but now is as good a time as any.
The moonbeam reflects off my kitchen ID badge hanging from the handle of my bag as I step into the train car and over the gap exposing a strip of trash and soot-laden gravel below. Joining a handful of other late-night riders, I settle far from spying eyes, in a back-row seat, before the jagged jerks of the ride begins.
The sliding door behind me swoops open, allowing a gush of damp air to spill in from the vestibule between train cars. The man in the dark hat thumps his heavy boots down the aisle, his shadowy gaze fixed downward, mumbling. When he reaches the other end of the train car, he turns back to stare at me. I shift my attention to the bag sitting on my lap before he catches my glance. The whoosh as he exits sends a chilly rush of air whirling up the bottom of my chef pants. I rub my arms to erase the goose bumps forming under my shirt and push the thought of him out of my mind. After dialing the number again, I slide the phone number in my coat pocket … only to hear a recording, asking me to leave a message.
As the train comes to a halt at my stop, I race out of the station and down the escalator to avoid being followed by the man who freaked me out on the train. I’d prefer to avoid any contact with him this late at night, with so few people around.
The dimly lit parking lot on Canal Street, not far from the Ogilvie station, is eerily quiet this time of night. I concentrate on putting one foot in front of the other.
The forceful blow comes out of nowhere as he grabs me from behind, the same way a great white shark barrels into an unsuspecting seal floating on the surface of the ocean. The incensed, loathsome constriction around me tightens.
“Help, someone! Please, I’m being attacked!” I wail.
I can tell the veins in my neck are bulging underneath my turtleneck. I think of my wallet containing the large cash withdrawal from my bonus check, tucked under my chef’s coat and apron, deep inside my bag — sheltered from the sheeting rain and prying hands. I knew I should’ve waited to cash that check until tomorrow. What was I thinking? I was so proud to earn that money after working hard all year long. I’ll be damned if I’m going to let some vagrant steal it, unless it means my life.
My screams for help may fall on deaf ears, given the lack of foot traffic, but I continue. It’s worth a try.
“Gimme your money or I’ll cut you.” His voice is raspy, his breath overbearing. As he yanks me, I tighten the long muscles of my legs to maintain balance. I wish I remembered to bring my pepper spray today. I could really use it right now!
I avoid looking at him as I see his distinct image in the reflection of a car window. I take note that he’s wearing a black ski mask and a bomber jacket, is at least a foot taller than me, and is solid. His grip confirms his muscular strength. He looks like the guy from the train, but I can’t see his face through the mask.
Unrelenting, he shouts, “Give it to me now! I got a knife.” He’s poking me with a pointy edge through my raincoat.
He continues his fury, determined to get what he wants as I try to distract him from what’s deep inside my bag. “I don’t have cash,” I whisper, my voice lost in my throat. “Take my watch” is all I spit out as he pulls me closer to his chest. I can replace the treasured gift from my husband five times over with the cash in my bag.
I lift my arm and show him the shiny gold face and burgundy leather strap. The pressure from his twisting grip hurls pulses of pain up my arm with numbing force. It’s not worth keeping if the alternative is a knife piercing my back.
He’s not buying it. The heat from him intensifies, forcing his energy to cave in harder.
He yells, “Bull! You paid for the train. I tracked you … rich urban scum.”
“I used my pass and ID, not cash.”
Thank God, I leave my wedding ring at home on work days.
As he pulls on my shoulder bag, a muted voice in the distance calls out, “Hey! Hey you! Is everything okay?”
I shake my head as I hear the faint steps of the Good Samaritan picking up his pace and heading in our direction.
The attacker seems to sense a losing battle against whoever may be coming our way. He throws me down, my hip and cheek slamming to the cement, and hurls the steel toe of his boot into my midsection. The kick lands inches from my pregnant stomach. A wail escapes my throat as the searing pain shoots through me like a bolt of lightning. I retighten my grip on the bag with one hand, preventing him from whisking it away; the other clutches my belly, attempting to shield my unborn baby. The cherished watch is still on my wrist, but the warm blood coming from in between my legs indicates he’s stolen something much more precious.
My screams echo throughout the parking lot while I roll onto my back, begging my baby to “stay, hold on.” Quiet sobs follow my rage as I lie in a puddle, whimpering. The attacker disappears in between cars through a heavy veil of rain, and my baby finds a way out of me. The distant sounds of sirens merge with my moans as the kind stranger holds my head in his lap.
Critical acclaim for “Pink Slips”:
“Aldrich’s book delivers a solidly structured and detail-filled plot that starts with a skillful, early buildup of suspense. Like an Agatha Christie novel, the novel makes efficient use of misdirection while adding several suspicious suspects to the mix. The characters are vividly drawn and believable. The story features an appealing and creative narrative voice.”
“Beth Aldrich’s ‘Pink Slips’ is a psychological thriller that sustains a sense of mystery throughout, told from the point of view of pregnant suburban chef Betsy Ryan. The first-person perspective helps build suspense and heightens the action through the story’s many twists and turns.”
“Atmospheric and chilling with a feisty and relatable Every-Mom heroine, ‘Pink Slips’ will keep you in suspense until the gripping climax.”
—Eve Adamson, nine-time New York Times best-selling collaborator
“Not since ‘Rosemary’s Baby’ has a book revealed how vulnerable women are when pregnant … Aldrich has Raymond Chandler’s (‘The Lady in the Lake’) gift for portraying violent scenes, but has a woman’s insight into the especially serious consequences it could have for pregnant women.”
—5-Star, IndieReader Review
“In her delicious first novel, Beth Aldrich has written a spine-tingling thriller about the power of motherhood, friendship, communication, and love. Interwoven with humor and suspense, ‘Pink Slips’ takes us on a fast-moving ride with unexpected twists and turns along the way. I couldn’t stop reading or caring about the characters, and, upon reaching the end, I found myself longing for a sequel!”
Can’t wait to read “Pink Slips”? Don’t miss the book launch party taking place at Share in Wilmette (1222 Washington Court, second floor, Wilmette, IL 60091) Thursday, June 22 from 7-9 p.m. Ten percent of local book sales will benefit Heartland Animal Shelter.
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- 8 Nonfiction Books That Highlight Awesome Women
- 8 New Paperback Books to Add to Your Summer Reading List
Beth Aldrich’s nonfiction book, “Real Moms Love to Eat” (Penguin/NAL, 2012), won a Nautilus Book Award and four Beverly Hills Book Awards. She published “For Her Information,” a Chicago magazine for women, and produced/hosted the PBS-TV series “For Her Information” in 60 markets across the United States, in addition to distribution in Israel and Turkey. She’s a proud member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Chicago Writer’s Association, and Chicago Off Campus Writer’s Workshop. Like her debut fiction protagonist, she studied culinary arts at Le Cordon Bleu in Chicago and her dogs are always at her side. Her author website is BethAldrich.com.