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Winter Reads: Family Thrillers

Three Bay Area authors are going the family drama route this month, but punching it up with murders, Nazis, and mysterious illnesses. Pick any one they'll all put your family feuds to shame.

Ripper, by Isabel Allende
One-sentence summary: When a string of murders grips San Francisco and her mother disappears, an enterprising high school senior sets out on her own investigation.
Family dynamics: (Long-divorced) taciturn cop dad and freewheeling mom, dependable grandpa.
Thrill factor: The first scene involves a brutal murder and a roomful of elementary school students, and it only gets more intense from there.
Literary cred: This may be a thriller—the author’s first—but it’s still Allende: finely wrought, gorgeously written, and expertly plotted.

Mercy Snow, by Tiffany Baker
One-sentence summary: After her brother is implicated in a mysterious school bus accident in an insular New Hampshire paper town, 15-year-old Mercy tries to figure out what happened—and unearths another family’s secrets in the process.
Family dynamics: Lower-class orphans versus aloof paper titans.
Thrill factor: Slow burning at first, but the last half of the book, in which a series of never-saw-that-coming secrets are revealed, reads like lightning.
Literary cred: Baker is brilliant at creating utterly believable worlds for her characters. Titan Hills inhabitants feel like people you might know—except slightly more sinister.

Motherland, by Maria Hummel
One-sentence summary: In Third Reich Germany, Liesl, the young second wife of a Mitläufer— someone who feigns Nazi sympathy to evade persecution—struggles in the face of her husband’s military draft and her stepson Ani’s mysterious disease.
Family dynamics: Quietly grieving dad, not so quietly grieving kids, new mother trying to hold it all together.
Thrill factor: The source of Ani’s ailment is confounding, and the lurking tension around whether he’ll be sent to a sanitarium carries surprising stakes.
Literary cred: Hummel has a gift with inner monologue—important in a book steeped in internalized shame and repressed anger.


Originally published in the January issue of San Francisco

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