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The best thrillers of 2021

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When he was only 8 years old, Wayland Maynard saw his father, the “sweet, chic and demanding” barber from a small town in Vermont, shoot himself in the head. The note that was left also serves as the title of Eric Rickstand’s weird and captivating novel, I AM NOT WHO YOU THINK I AM (Blackstone, 229 pages, $ 25.99). It’s both an intriguing message and a red herring, as Wayland tries, years later, to uncover the truth about his family. Here is an old-fashioned Gothic tale, involving, among other things, incest, wealth, murder and a deadly fire. The reader will entertain many incorrect theories before arriving at the shock of a finale. The most heartbreaking moment of all: when you discover what the note really means.


The brutal era of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland did not end with the 1998 peace accord, Flynn Berry reminds us in SPY OF THE NORTH (Viking, 278 pages, $ 26), an icy, claustrophobic story of a modern nation poisoned by ancient grievances. (Fruit lovers will recognize that the title is a type of apple; it’s in the story.) At the beginning of the book, a reporter glances at TV and sees a horrible sight – her beloved sister , filmed by a security camera wearing a balaclava. and rob a gas station. Worse yet: the sister appears to be a member of the Irish Republican Army, putting the whole family at risk and triggering a series of entangled events involving police informers, weapon caches and double and triple crosses. Who is spying on whom? Unfortunately, neutrality is not an option.


L’ANOMALY (Autre Presse, 400 pp., Paper, $ 16.99), the exciting new novel by French novelist Hervé Le Tellier, arrived in America showered with Gallic praise and bathed in the glow of the Prix Goncourt it won last year. All of this is well deserved. The novel – a deeply moving examination of free will, fate, reality and the meaning of existence, wrapped in a high-level plot that could have come from “The Twilight Zone” or “Black Mirror” – exists in Venn’s finest diagrams, where high entertainment meets serious literature. The story concerns the passengers of Air France flight 006, which took off in a terrible storm and found itself in an inexplicable situation. Le Tellier, who mixes the narrative with scientific theories and philosophical debates, writes with a light touch, aided by Adriana Hunter’s translation, though he does make you care deeply about a disparate range of characters, a gay Nigerian pop star hiding his sexuality from an abused young girl in Brighton Beach who loves her pet turtle. Ultimately, it invites us to consider the most basic and pressing question: If life is out of our control and we will all die anyway, how should we be living?


Sarah Lyall is a writer on the loose at The Times.


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