theGrio’s Top 50 books to read this summer: ‘Thrills and Chills’

If you’re a fan of Black-led mysteries and thrillers, this is your time

If you’re a fan of Black-led mysteries and thrillers, this is your time. The genre is popping, the talent is staggering, and our stories are finding their way to publication in the widest possible variety of subgenres—from psychological thriller to detective fiction, suspense and cozy mysteries. The most challenging part is figuring out where to start.

Of course, I recommend grabbing the books below first, and when you’re ready for your next great read after that, try the Crime Writers of Color website. In addition to being an organization for authors, they provide a great searchable database for readers.

Razorblade Tears S.A. Cosby (Crime thriller)

Cosby’s previous book Blacktop Wasteland was a breakout hit in 2020, and, I’m calling it now, his latest novel is the undisputed crime thriller of the summer. Two men, one Black, one White, both of whom have had serious trouble with the law, both reluctant to acknowledge their familial bond, come together to secure justice by any means necessary for their murdered sons. A propulsive, explosive and beautifully written literary thrill ride with a surprisingly sharp social conscience. 

Runner by Tracy Clark

Former police officer turned P.I. Cass Raines is the pineapple-like Black female detective of Tracy Clark’s Chicago Mystery series— prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside. With intricate and timely plots, each installment is better than the last, and this fourth novel, which works well as a standalone, might be the best yet. When a teenager goes missing from her foster home the day before she was scheduled to reunite with her recovering-addict mother, Cass takes the job of tracking her down and finds there’s more going on than just one missing girl. 

Her Three Lives by Cate Holahan (Multicultural mystery/thriller)

Modern surveillance and clashes around race, class and culture add depth and a contemporary edge to a familiar scenario in the psychological thriller meets domestic suspense genre. Greg is a wealthy and successful (and white) architect with an icy ex-wife and two challenging adult kids. His significantly younger fiancee, the Caribbean-born Jade, is a social media influencer caught between the suspicion and resentment of Greg’s family and the domestic pressure of her own traditional mother. When Greg is brutally attacked it pushes a fraught family situation to the edge. While healing at home, Greg takes on the hyper-vigilance of the hero in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window,” but instead of directing his surveillance and eventual suspicions toward neighbors, Greg turns a wandering eye towards his fiancee.

With all the talk about landmark Supreme Court decisions in jeopardy, retirements, nominations and their consequences, Stacey Abrams’ new legal thriller While Justice Sleeps is not so much ripped from the headlines as it is the stuff of our most vivid nightmares. When cantankerous Supreme Court justice Howard Wynn slips into a coma, it propels the court into limbo, causing a constitutional crisis with his law clerk at the center of a political storm. Read theGrio review.

Find Me When I’m Lost by Cheryl A. Head

In her fifth Charlie Mack Motown mystery, Head delivers her enticing signature blend of police procedural, city politics and crime, but this time the case gets really personal and messy. When Charlie Mack’s ex-husband Franklin is charged with his brother-in-law’s murder and goes into hiding, his new wife hires Charlie’s firm to sort out what’s going on. A 2021 Lambda Literary Award finalist. 

Blanche Among the Talented Tenth by Barbara Neely

This one is not new, but I think it’s vital. Recently deceased, Barbara Neely was a path-breaking Black mystery writer with a distinctive voice. Like her activist creator, Blanche is a sharp, steely-eyed social observer. Unlike Neely though, Blanche, who works as a maid, is continually compelled to put on a happy mask to get by. Though she bristles at injustice, her survival hinges on pantomiming racial etiquette and conforming to race-based expectations when it serves her goals. In her second novel, Blanche, now transplanted north and raising her sister’s two children as her own, spends time among the so-called talented tenth in a privileged Black enclave on Martha’s Vineyard. An unexpected death further exacerbates class and other cleavages.

Murder by Page One by Olivia Matthews (Cozy Mystery)

In this quintessential cozy mystery, Marvella Harris (“Marvey”) is a Brooklyn girl transplanted to a small southern town and a twenty-something librarian with the old soul of a boomer. This novel has all the essential elements of its genre: eccentric locals, humor, a light murder mystery and a touch of romance, plus something extra, a touch of Black nerd girl magic in the African American lead. Marvey moved to Georgia for work. In New York she had trouble gaining traction in her career, but in the Peach Coast, she easily makes her mark. After just a few months, she’s falling in love with her job and the town. And, she has a new best friend, Jolene, the owner of the local independent bookstore. All is well until a controversial local author turns up dead in the bookstore’s back room and Marvey’s BFF Jo is the prime suspect. So Marvey jumps head first into the investigation with helpful and handsome local scion and journalist as her helpful sidekick.

Return to TheGrio Top 50 Books of Summer Main Page 

More theGrio Top 50 Book picks: Family Ties | American Art and Ideas | LGBTQ+ Pride | Black Love and Black Glamour | Spreading Our Wings | Crime and Consciousness | Historical Reckoning | Nonfiction | Thrills and Chills: Mystery/Suspense/ThrillerLove and Romance | Historical Fiction | Fiction from the Diaspora | Contemporary Fiction

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