This week: teaching Jane Austen in Latin America, a bloody love story, and a first-rate espionage thriller. Plus: Civil War master Jeff Shaara returns to what he does best. Here are the best books of the week, as picked by PW's editors.
The Lost Ones by Ace Atkins (Putnam) - Atkins, an Edgar finalist, manages to sell the notion of a contemporary laconic lead battling evil that could come straight out of a Gary Cooper western. The hero, lawman Quinn Colson, gets pulled into trouble when his friend gets mixed up with some very bad and very violent people.
In the Kingdom of Men by Kim Barnes (Knopf) - An immersive and bracing exploration of one woman’s search for freedom amid repression, In the Kingdom of Men follows Virginia Mitchell as she moves from her evangelical Oklahoma home to Saudi Arabia, where her husband is stationed on an oil rig. Set in the 1960s, the book includes everything you could want, including extraordinary adventure, masterful pacing, and an unsettling conclusion. Check out our Q&A with Kim Barnes.
Cronkite by Douglas Brinkley (Harper) - More than double the length of Walter Cronkite's autobiography, A Reporter's Life, this massive chronicle of one of journalism's great figures details both Cronkite's personal and professional life, beginning with his childhood in Missouri and Texas and culminating with his presence at the forefront of the world's most groundbreaking news stories.
Age of Doubt by Andrea Camilleri, translated by Stephen Sartarelli (Penguin) - The 14th Inspector Salvo Montalbano mystery, the self-depricating, passionately foul-mouthed Sicilian policeman befriends a mysterious young woman and discovers a disfigured body aboard a yacht. The awkward humanity and everyday sadness of Camilleri’s characters make them instantly sympathetic, while wry commentary on language, food, and local customs lend color.
Wife 22 by Melanie Gideon (Ballantine) - Debut novelist Gideon artfully traces the contours of a dull marriage in the age of Facebook. Alice and William Buckle start out happy, but two kids and nearly 20 years later, Alice is bored and desperate for stimulation. When she gets an e-mail asking her to participate in a study about modern marriage, she impulsively agrees.
Our Lady of Alice Bhatti by Mohammed Hanif (Knopf) - This curiously bloody love story follows nurse Alice Bhatti, a Catholic woman who rises out of Pakistan's slums and meets weightlifter Teddy Butt. The intricacies and limitations of Pakistan’s lowest rungs are rendered with humor and candor, allowing as little pity for Hanif's characters as they allow themselves.
Sandstorm: Libya in the Time of Revolution by Lindsey Hilsum (Penguin Press) - All you need for a primer on the Libyan Revolution. Hilsum, an international editor for Britain's Channel 4 News, draws on her reporting from the front lines and tells the story from the eyes of the rebels.
Johnson's Life of London by Boris Johnson (Riverhead) - In this highly entertaining work of popular history, the mayor of London profiles 18 colorful Londonites, from well-known figures like Shakespeare to lesser-known figures like W.T. Stead, a journalist who wrote prurient exposés of Victorian London’s prostitution trade.
Istanbul Passage by Joseph Kanon (Atria) - A first-rate espionage novel that follows an ordinary man transformed by a simple courier's job in 1945 Turkey, a country filled with defeated Germans and victorious Russians, blustery Americans, resigned Turks and desperate Jews. A tense, complex, and fascinating novel.
No Safety In Numbers by Dayna Lorentz (Dial) - Lorentz's YA debut cogently explores the impact of an emergency situation on multiple characters in a finite space. An ordinary day at the mall turns deadly after the discovery of a biological bomb in the air ducts prompts an immediate lockdown, trapping thousands of shoppers inside. Very little is resolved before the inevitable cliffhanger, but readers will eagerly await the next installment.
A Blaze of Glory: A Novel of the Battle of Shiloh by Jeff Shaara (Ballantine) - The first novel of a trilogy, Shaara depicts one of the Civil War's bloodiest and most important battles. Read the first chapter here.
All Roads Lead to Austen: A Yearlong Journey with Jane by Amy Elizabeth Smith (Sourcebooks) - In this humorous memoir, Smith teaches three of Jane Austen's novels in Latin America and experiences the effects her stories have on different cultures. Smith’s account reads like an educational travel blog and is full of colorful characters. Read Smith's ranking of the Austen novels.
The Watchers by Jon Steele (Penguin/Blue Rider) - The backdrop for this thriller is Switzerland's Lausanne cathedral, which may or may not be a sanctuary for lost angels. The story is tantalizingly ambiguous, casted with fey characters and a skillfully concealed ending until its climax.
The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes (Vintage) - New in paperback, this Booker winner is my choice for 2011's book of the year. If you haven't read it, now is the time to give it a shot. Check out last year's Literary Cage Match, in which PW deputy reviews editor Mike Harvkey and I debated which book should've won the 2011 Man Booker Prize (hint: the right book won).