Two thrillers revolve around treacherous female friendships – Sun Sentinel
“The House Across the Lake” by Riley Sager. Dutton, 368 pages, $27
Whether we admit it or not, voyeurism is a kind of national pastime. How else to explain our fascination with reality television, courtroom television — particularly involving two bitter celebrity ex-spouses — or even social media. Perhaps the ultimate voyeurism is Alfred Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” which Riley Sager pays homage to while adding a modern twist to her highly entertaining “The House Across the Lake.”
Sager infuses realistic suspense — and a bit of espionage — into her sixth novel, also a story about loneliness and the need to connect with others. Sager keeps the “Rear Window”-esque plot of “The House Across the Lake” focused on believable characters who may not always be likable but who readers will care deeply about.
Actor Casey Fletcher’s life and career have been on a steady downward spiral since his screenwriter husband, Len, drowned a year ago behind their vacation home on Vermont’s Lake Greene. His only consolation was alcohol, drinking to excess to ease his pain. Fired from her last Broadway role for being drunk during a performance, Casey retreats to that same Vermont house where she drinks even more. Drinking heavily by day, Casey always has the presence of mind to start his motorboat to save his neighbor, former supermodel Katherine Royce, from drowning.
A friendship is formed between the two women, whose houses are on the other side of the lake. Over coffee, Katherine admits that her marriage to Tom is troubled and that her business is in trouble despite being wealthy. Casey becomes obsessed with Katherine – drinking more while using powerful binoculars to watch Katherine’s house, with its wall of glass reflecting the lake.
Even Casey admits his obsession is weird. She begins to suspect that Tom wants to kill Katherine, but her imagination won’t be enough for the police. Then, she hears a scream during the night.
Sager heightens the suspense in each chapter as he navigates “The House Across the Lake” through a myriad of twists and surprises as he deepens his exploration of its characters. At first, Casey and Katherine seem one-dimensional, but their complicated personalities quickly emerge.
Grim Greene Lake, surrounded by just five houses, is a figure itself – “darker than a coffin with the lid closed”.
Sager delivers a delightfully odd plot in “The House Across the Lake.”
“Counterfeit” by Kirstin Chen. Tomorrow, 288 pages, $27.99
At first glance, buying a counterfeit luxury handbag seems like a benign act and a victimless crime. Apply a realistic logo to quality leather and it looks like a handbag that would have cost hundreds, if not thousands of dollars. Few people might be able to tell that the so-called Birkin bag is a fake. But the “lure of ostentation” may be linked to organized crime, tricking dozens of unsuspecting buyers out of thousands of dollars, as Kirstin Chen explores in “Counterfeit,” her clever third novel.
“Counterfeiting” begins as a rather lighthearted story about counterfeit handbags and friendship, but Chen quickly turns her novel into a story of complicated relationships, the luxury industry, Chinese culture, and “how even the firmest moral boundaries can stretch and tear” when they are boundless. wealth is at stake. Chen smoothly shifts “Counterfeit” to a grittier plot, using principles of the heist and grand theft mysteries without resorting to violence, though the story never lacks suspense.
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Ava Wong is at rock bottom – a troubled marriage with her transplant surgeon husband, her special-needs grandson Henri, grief over his mother’s recent death and adrift while on hiatus from his work as a tax lawyer. Even though she despised this career, being a lawyer at least gave her cachet and got her out of the house.
Ava is ripe for manipulation when her former Stanford roommate Winnie Fang arrives in San Francisco. An academic scandal forced Winnie, then shy and nerdy, to drop out of college and return to China. But over the past 20 years, Winnie has changed – exuding “rich-rich” wealth, dazzling with her beauty and “extreme self-confidence”; even able to calm Henri during a fit of anger.
Winnie has a business plan for Ava: join her luxury handbag counterfeiting scheme, which Winnie says is low risk and will give Ava her own income. Reluctant at first, Ava soon joins when stranded with no money or credit card on a visit to China, beginning a journey from reluctant part-timer to full-fledged partner with Winnie.
The handling of counterfeits ranges from simple transactions – “the sheer elegance of his scheme” – to complex situations involving gangsters. Ava can’t tell anyone what she’s doing, and these secrets and lies pile up, alienating her from others except Winnie.
Chen is a compelling example of how the seductive power of money, the thrill of being bold – and those beautiful handbags, so many handbags – can change a person. Chen also skillfully shows how Winnie and Ava are complicated women both capable of being manipulated and of manipulating others, and both shaped by their Chinese culture.
The “counterfeit” is a real storytelling.
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.