The Blackbird Season by Kate Moretti.

Kate Moretti worked as a scientist for ten years before turning to fiction.

Moretti’s novel, The Blackbird Season, is a compelling psychological suspense story about a family torn apart by suspicion. Nate has always been charming and well-liked, a hometown hero, so its surprising when he’s suspended from his teaching job.

His wife, Alecia, who stays home with their special needs child is barely holding it together.

Has Nate done something inappropriate with a student, Lucia, whom everyone knows to be trouble? Lucia, a platinum-haired misfit, deliberately acts strange. Nate, though, has always supported students like this–students on the fringes whom the others bully.

Alecia has many reasons to be suspicious. She finds an unexplained motel bill on her husband’s credit card. Nate also follows his students social media accounts. Nate claims he has a reasonable explanation for his actions.

Moretti sets up the characters and the situation so that Nate seems equally innocent and equally guilty.

Nate’s friend Bridget, who works at the same school, has access to some of the students’ thoughts because she is the Creative Writing instructor. Students in her class need to submit their personal journals for a grade.

In the background looms the colossal, now defunct paper mill that built and ruined many lives. Lucia, whose alcoholic father left the family, has sought shelter within its crumbling walls.

In a disturbing twist, two of the town’s baseball stars have a uploaded incriminating video involving themselves and a girl at party. Baseball is one of the town’s only source of pride so a scandal involving baseball players is bad news.

 Lucia hands footage of the video to her teacher, Mr. Winters (Nate) but has not been seen since.

The tension builds to a terrifying crescendo as characters face their darkest fears. In the end, its hard to say who is guilty or who is least culpable in this incisive, suspense novel.

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We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Most readers know Shirley Jackson’s chilling short story, “The Lottery,” or her gothic novel, The Haunting of Hill House. Her masterpiece, We Have Always Lived in the Castle, is not as well known.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a murder-mystery that combines Gothic elements with psychological suspense. Though it gives the routine of two seemingly ordinary women, it also peers into the mind of a deranged young girl:

“I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had…I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.”

Merricat, eighteen, lives in the past along with her sister, who is about 28, and her ailing Uncle Julian. For some reason, Merricat excludes him as a member of her family in the opening paragraphs of the novel.

Merricat, who believes in magic and protection spells, lives wholly in her own imagination. She believes her cat, Jonas, can tell stories. She thinks that burying objects and nailing items to a tree can protect her and her sister from the villagers. She often professes that she wants to go to the moon on a winged horse.

None of Merricat’s talismans have any effect though when a relative, Charles Blackwood, visits and takes over the family’s home. The visitor alters the family in irreversible ways. Much like the events that occurred six years ago, the visitor’s actions alters the fabric of their lives.

Merricat insists that Charles is a “ghost” and a “demon.” He is, in fact, a greedy relative who wants access to the family’s safe. Merrricat’s fanciful imagination however will not allow such a prosaic explanation.

After the fire, and after the villagers exact terrible retribution, the Blackwood girls are more isolated than ever.

Merricat and Constance insist, however, that they are happy even if they are deprived of their beautiful things–the italian staircase and drawing room. Without their their fancy plates and drapes, they are in a barren, yet isolated place. They are finally “on the moon.”

The Black-Eyed Susans by Julia Heaberlin

Years after a horrific crime, Tessie, the only survivor in the “Black-eyed Susan” murders steps forward. She is beginning to doubt that the right person has been convicted for the heinous crime.

Tessie was nearly killed and blinded by a “monster.” After the  horrific attack, Tessie suffers memory loss and psychological blindess–a conversion disorder.

Heaberlin unveils the chilling story in back and forth chapters that contrasts events near the time of the crime with its aftershock seventeen years later.

If Tessie does not change her testimony, an innocent man could face the death penalty. Tessie, however, is reluctant to delve into her past. After all, she has her own daughter to protect from the media’s harsh glare.

Adding to the tension is the fact that Tessie thinks she is going insane.

Immediately after the crime she begins to hear the voices of the other Susans in her head. The grown-up Tessie thinks her monster has been planting batches of blacked-eyed susans to traumatize her.

The twist at the end packs a wallop. Heaberlin’s latest is for fans of Gillian Flynn, Paula Hawkins and Brunonia Barry.