Fans of Christopher Swann know Susannah Faulkner has baggage. In his wildly popular 2020 thriller, Never Turn Back ( A Faulkner Family Thriller Book 1,) Swann details her backstory: that her parents were murdered before her 10-year-old eyes, that she and her elder brother, Ethan, were raised by their Irish Uncle Gavin who owns an Atlanta bar named Ronan’s that’s probably used as a front, that their shared tragedy caused the siblings to turn out differently, yet their bond remains indelible.
Christopher Swann is a novelist and high school English teacher. A graduate of Woodberry Forest School in Virginia, he earned his Ph.D. in creative writing from Georgia State University. He has been a Townsend Prize finalist, longlisted for the Southern Book Prize, and a winner of the Georgia Author of the Year award. He lives with his wife and two sons in Atlanta, where he is the English department chair at Holy Innocents’ Episcopal School.
“The Maidens is an intricately plotted, mystery-thriller for the discerning reader. It’s an atmospheric story set on Cambridge University’s campus merging cliff-hanging twists with artful suspense.”
Mariana Andros is a 36-year-old, grieving widow. She is 14 months past the accident that killed her husband, Sebastian, on a beach in Greece while on holiday. A practicing group therapist, she continues to live in the yellow house she shared with Sebastian on Primrose Hill in Northwest London. “But in many ways, Mariana was still there, still trapped on the beach in Naxos, and she would be forever.”
Having met as Cambridge University students, Mariana and Sebastian had a marriage of opposites. “In contrast to Mariana’s privileged upbringing, Sebastian was brought up with no money.” They met when they were both 19, and “In many ways, Mariana’s and Sebastian’s lives began when they found each other.” Mariana believed their love would go on forever, but “Looking back was there something sacrilegious in that assumption? A kind of hubris?”
Mariana came to England at age 18 to attend St. Christopher’s college in Cambridge. She grew up in Greece, on the outskirts of Athens with her sister Elisa, who died with her husband in a car crash, leaving the married Sebastian and Mariana as surrogate parents to Zoe, who is now a Cambridge student. Mariana fears she has lost touch with Zoe. “Their relationship had been imbalanced ever since Sebastian’s death, and from now on, Mariana was determined to correct that balance.”
When Mariana receives a phone call from Zoe and learns something is dreadfully wrong, she packs a bag and immediately leaves for Cambridge by train, where she meets a student named Fred, who is pursuing his PHD at Cambridge, and quickly pursues Mariana to the point of being a pest.
Mariana gets off the train and approaches the prime setting of The Maidens. “And now, as she grew closer and closer to St. Christopher’s, she found herself walking with increasing trepidation as the familiar streets made it hard to hold back the memories flooding into her mind—ghosts of Sebastian were waiting on every corner.” Mariana has her reasons for soldiering on. “She’d do it for Zoe. Zoe was all she had left.”
In The Maidens, Alex Michaelides excels in writing character as place: “Mariana had been afraid to see it again—the backdrop to her love story, but thankfully, the college’s beauty came to her rescue.” “As Mariana neared the college, her surroundings grew more and more beautiful with each step: there were spires and turrets above her head, and beech trees lining the streets shedding golden leaves that collected in piles along the pavement.”
An unidentified body is found in Cambridge, and Zoe suspects her good friend, Tara, is the victim. Within minutes of Mariana’s arrival to her Alma Mater, Zoe’s suspicions are confirmed.
Although planning to stay in Cambridge only long enough to console Zoe over the loss of her friend, Mariana becomes involved in the search for the murderer, when a chance encounter reunites her with Julian Ashcroft, her Cambridge classmate from 20 years before, now a celebrated forensic psychologist, who keeps Mariana apprised of the murder investigation’s findings.
Zoe considers herself a college outcast, and Mariana worries about her now that her best friend Tara is dead. As Zoe’s predicament at Cambridge becomes clear to Mariana, she discovers the thorn in Zoe’s side involves an elite group of girls from privileged backgrounds who occupy a high strata of scholastic standing, and at the core of this special clique, known as The Maidens, is one Edward Fosca, a sinister Greek Classics professor come to Cambridge from America.
By all rumors, dubious activity surrounds The Maidens, and Zoe confesses they’re a secret society to which Tara belonged. Zoe further confesses that Tara had come to her in fear of Edward Fosca on the very night she was murdered. Alarmed and intrigued, Mariana can’t resist taking the murder investigation into her own hands.
Against a thematic background of Greek Tragedy serving as a template to two more Cambridge murders, the one thing the victims have in common is membership in The Maidens. When Edward Fosca invites Mariana to his rooms for an intimate dinner, Mariana is reluctant, but also convinced that Fosca is the murderer. In the interest of further investigation, she accepts his invitation and finds disturbing evidence in his rooms to support her convictions. Not knowing who to trust with her findings, Mariana calls Fred and the two put their minds together in unravelling the mystery.
Tangled threads and uncanny alliances are woven throughout this off-kilter story. Interspersed throughout are confessions from a troubled, unknown narrator, on whom the lens of possibility shifts from one character to the next.
The Maidens is an intricately plotted, mystery-thriller for the discerning reader. It’s an atmospheric story set on Cambridge University’s campus merging cliff-hanging twists with artful suspense.
Claire Fullerton’s most recent novels are Little Tea and multiple award winner, Mourning Dove. Honors include the Independent Book Publishers Book Award Silver Medal for Regional Fiction, the Reader’s Favorite for Southern Fiction Bronze Medal and various other literary awards.
Congratulations to Henya Drescher on the release of Stolen Truth!
An edge of your seat, twisting, turning, unpredictable story that will have you turning its pages as you try to discern what REALLY happened! A sure pleasure for thriller readers!
Bree Michaelson wakes up one day feeling drugged and confused, to find her boyfriend, Todd Armstrong, and her infant son, Noah, missing. But why does no one believe her? Lacking witnesses to her pregnancy, a birth certificate to prove a child was born, or a marriage license to prove her invisible husband ever existed, Bree will find it impossible to get the help she so desperately needs to find her baby.
Nevertheless, despite suspicious friends, family, and authorities, Bree sets out to find Todd and Noah. Only when her sister commits her to a hospital psych ward that Bree begins to doubt her own story. In the past, she suffered from a false pregnancy. Is this an imagined recurrence? She must fight to find the truth of what has happened to her—or admit that is all in her own mind.
About the Author:
Henya Drescher is often found reading a book, and that book will most likely be a psychological thriller, which she writes. Writing novels was always her wish, and now, with STOLEN TRUTH, it has become a reality. When not absorbed in writing her third novel and spending too much time on the computer, Henya’s passions include lifting weights, spinning, and cultivating her large garden. She and her husband live in New York City.
From author, Walter Cummins:
“Henya Drescher possesses a gift for creating the best kind of mystery, going far beyond the simple question of who did it to ask what was done and why and who can be trusted and believed. The novel captures the fraught frustrations of Bree, who may or may not have been the mother of a kidnapped newborn, as she plunges into her quest, facing many internal and external uncertainties. Bree bears the history of being a troubled woman, yet she is passionately determined. The complexities of her character drive the story through accumulating dead ends and detours. Her desperation pulsates through the pages of Stolen Truth as both she and the reader crave answers.”
From the Author:
I write suspense thrillers in which my heroines respond fearlessly to testing circumstances, satisfying a universal appeal by allowing readers a peek into their challenged lives
I would describe my psychological thrillers as tense with the twists and turns that keep the adrenaline flowing and activate a part of the brain that are typically not stimulated. My heroes are individuals who make difficult choices and sacrifice and others’ good. Like the characters, we struggle to figure out what is going on. And with a final shocking twist, the tension gives away exhilaration.
It is hard enough to pen a thriller that grabs you from the start and compels you to get on the journey with the protagonist. It is much harder when she is an “unreliable narrator,” one whose perceptions you doubt—just as do all the people she’s trying to convince that she’s been married, pregnant, and had a baby who has disappeared along with his father. Yet, in her sure, lyrical prose, Henya Drescher does a magnificent job of building a compelling, suspenseful story that unfurls in the wooded settings of the Berkshires (NY). The more you are swept into the story, the more you question who and what to believe. Has Bree been a victim of a manipulative man who isolated her from her family and her environment only so she can produce a child for him, or is Bree, a young, bright woman with a disturbing past of psychological delusions is just imagining this convoluted plot? In the tradition of “Gone Girl” and “The Girl on The Train,” STOLEN TRUTH will keep the readers’ attention in a can’t-put-it down, unforgettable story, that culminates with a brilliant, totally believable ending.
This was a fast read with a few surprises to keep it interesting. The character Bree wakes from a drug induced nap to discover her family missing and the house freshly scrubbed and painted. She tries to get help but not everyone believes her wild story.
Did it really happen? Was she imagining that she ever had a husband and a child? Where was the woman hired to help with childcare?
Bree must piece it all together with few clues to go on.