Bookshelf: April showers bring two new thrillers

Suspicious deaths prompt a Texas P.I. and a suburban wife to suss out suspects.
Samantha Jayne Allen is the author of "Next of Kin," the third in her Annie McIntyre series.
Courtesy of Minotaur Books / Olivia Tanner

Credit: Minotaur Books / Olivia Tanner

Credit: Minotaur Books / Olivia Tanner

Samantha Jayne Allen is the author of "Next of Kin," the third in her Annie McIntyre series. Courtesy of Minotaur Books / Olivia Tanner

This week’s Bookshelf is about two new thrillers this month that are wildly different but share some similarities: They’re written by women, feature female protagonists and their plots are set into motion by a suspicious suicide.

BLOOD BROTHERS: Atlanta-based author Samantha Jayne Allen delivers the third book in her Tony Hillerman Prize-winning Annie McIntyre series that debuted in 2022 with “Pay Dirt Road.” Her newest, “Next of Kin” (Minotaur Books, $28), returns to Garnett, Texas, where Annie works as a young, inexperienced private investigator mentored by her 85-year-old grandfather, Leroy, a retired sheriff.

Set against a hardscrabble landscape of motor inns and pool halls, Garnett is so sleepy that tumbleweeds literally roll down Main Street. But tension bristles beneath its surface as a series of threatening but seemingly unrelated events occur — a black pickup truck with tinted windows nearly runs down Annie and her new client; a violent drug dealer with an axe to grind shows up when least expected; a fatal house fire is torched by an arson.

While attending her cousin’s engagement party, Annie meets the groom-to-be’s adopted brother Clint, an aspiring musician who enlists her services to track down his birth parents. It doesn’t take long. His father is in federal prison serving 35 years for an armed bank robbery that involved hostages. “The man’s a sociopath,” Leroy tells her.

Coindicentally, one of the bank tellers he robbed that day would go on to become Clint’s adoptive mother.

Unable to contact the birth father and rebuffed by the birth mother, Annie meets with Clint’s biological brother, Cody, and makes a rookie mistake. She reveals Clint’s identity to Cody before she’s shared the news with her client. And before she can do so, Clint starts avoiding her like he’s not even interested in Annie’s findings. She finally catches up with him and gives him the lowdown right before he goes on stage to perform. At the show, Cody makes a brief appearance in the audience without incident.

Two weeks later, best man Clint is a no-show for the wedding dress rehearsal. Annie drives to his house to roust him, but finds it closed up tight and his car gone. Then she goes to Cody’s. There she discovers his bloody body. Authorities rule his death suicide by gunshot; the proof, they say, is in the note he left behind. But Annie believes it was murder, and she sets out to prove it.

The book launch for “Next of Kin,” featuring author Samantha Jayne Allen in conversation with Matt Nixon, is April 27 at A Cappella Books. For details go to

"While We Were Burning" by Sara Koffi
Courtesy of Penguin Random House

Credit: Penguin Random House

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Credit: Penguin Random House

FRENEMIES FOREVER: A call to 911 reporting the “suspicious behavior” of a 9-year-old Black boy in the bougie Memphis suburb of Harbor Town ends in a senseless tragedy and sets into motion the psychological thriller “While We Were Burning” (Penguin Random House, $28) by debut author Sara Koffi.

The boy’s grieving mother, Brianna, gets a job as a part-time assistant to Harbor Town homemaker Elizabeth in hopes that proximity to the neighborhood will help her figure out who made the fateful phone call that resulted in the death of her son.

Elizabeth is an emotional mess in the wake of her own tragedy. In the wee hours one morning, she discovered the body of her neighbor Patricia hanging from a lamppost. Elizabeth becomes obsessed with proving it was not a suicide, but murder. While everyone else discourages Elizabeth’s amateur sleuthing, Brianna encourages it, and the two women bond over their search for clues together.

The two women appear to be cut from the same cloth. They both are supremely unlikeable characters whose internal monologues are bitter, spiteful and misanthropic. In the parlance of today’s armchair psychologists, they would be labeled classic narcissists. But things eventually turn toxic between them as Elizabeth’s life unravels and dark truths are revealed in this twisty tale of revenge rooted in racism and classism.

Suzanne Van Atten is a book critic and contributing editor to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. She can be reached at