I love being right. It’s my favorite thing. If you read mysteries and crime, you probably love being right, too. More than that, though, we crime readers love to be deceived. We do. Not because we believe the lies. Because we believe that we are smart enough to sleuth out the truth. That’s especially true in crime novels. In many cases, we want to solve the mystery before the characters do. But sometimes, the characters themselves can actually be the mystery. And that’s when things get interesting. In these five crime novels, people are not what they seem. Sometimes they’re not who they seem. Come with me and see if these imposters really are slick enough to get away with deception.
I won’t lie: I read this one because I was in Italy, and I wanted to read something light that also took place in Sicily—it’s a favorite of my traveling practices, reading something set where I’m headed. But man, this book is a new favorite of mine. And it was not light. Tom Ripley might start out as a small-time grifter, but when Dickie Greenleaf’s parents commission him to bring their son back from the Amalfi Coast, they create a monster. Tom becomes so infatuated with Dickie that he wants to be Dickie… and Patricia Highsmith weaves such a compelling narrative that you kind of want him to succeed.
This novel undertakes a different kind of mistaken identity: it’s not identity theft. It’s inability to identify. When authorities find a naked woman in the Seine one winter who has no memory of herself at all, they barely have time to take a DNA sample before she disappears. The results of the test reveal that the woman was a famous pianist who died in a plane crash over a year before. Her former fiancé teams up with a determined policewoman to uncover the truth about the woman. They just have to find her first.
On the tails of the Irish potato famine, a miracle is happening. In rural Ireland, an eleven-year-old little girl has survived without food for weeks. Religious officials want to believe in the miracle. They want to believe that the girl is a saint. But local authorities need a little more proof. They hire the English nurse Lib Wright to observe the girl, to make sure she really isn’t eating. This book is a twisted meld of torture and belief and it’ll keep you enthralled until you figure out just what exactly is going on. (Bonus: there’s a film adaptation of this film out now, starring Florence Pugh!)
Eva Wong and Winnie Fang were roommates in college until Winnie mysteriously left school. Now, twenty years later, they’re reuniting, and Winnie is kind of crushing it. From her cosmetic surgery to her designer handbag, Winnie exudes flawless success. Eva is a little skeptical… this isn’t the Winnie she knew. It doesn’t take her long to sleuth out that Winnie runs a counterfeit bag business that is so authentic even experts can’t always identify the counterfeits. And it doesn’t take long for a reader like me to get pulled into the long con.
I don’t know about you, but any time the protagonists of a book are twins, I start second-guessing them. In this crime novel, Jane Pool is loving her life: it’s safe and suburban and there are no unwanted surprises. Until her estranged twin sister Lila resurfaces, saying she knows where their even more elusive mother is, and she ropes Jane into helping her pin down their mother for answers about why she abandoned them ears ago. This one’s not out yet, but you can pre-order it now and enjoy it in early 2024.
What to Read Next
Mary Kay McBrayer is the author of America’s First Female Serial Killer: Jane Toppan and the Making of a Monster. You can find her short works at Oxford American, Narratively, Mental Floss, and FANGORIA, among other publications. She co-hosts Everything Trying to Kill You, the comedy podcast that analyzes your favorite horror movies from the perspectives of women of color. Follow Mary Kay McBrayer on Instagram and Twitter, or check out her author site here.