This week: the woman who wouldn't die, what to do if a stranger approaches you, and how to live a life of crime.
The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die by Colin Cotterill (Soho Crime) – Dr. Siri Paiboun, in his ninth outing, looks into a bizarre case: the minister of agriculture’s wife has hired Madame Keui—a witch dubbed the “used-to-be woman,” because she’s alive and kicking two months after her corpse was consigned to a funeral pyre—to help lay to rest the ghost of the minister’s brother, believed to have been killed on a covert op in 1969. The action builds to an ingenious resolution.
The Searchers: The Making of an American Legend by Glenn Frankel (Bloomsbury) - John Ford’s classic 1956 western film The Searchers, starring John Wayne, drew inspiration from the 19th-century kidnappings of Cynthia Ann Parker. In this powerful dual history, Pulitzer winner Frankel dexterously interweaves the testosterone-fueled Hollywood backstory of the film with the bloody turmoil that too often characterized relations between Native Americans and settlers pushing west.
The Age of Edison: Electric Light and the Invention of Modern America by Ernest Freeberg (Penguin Press) – Freeberg examines the social, technological, and political context surrounding the development of the electric light bulb and its transformative effects on American society. Freeberg demonstrates that it was Thomas Edison who, by founding the Edison Electric Light Company, synthesized scientific collaboration, entrepreneurship, and salesmanship in the development of a “complete lighting system” that could power an “incandescent bulb of superior design.”
The Inner City by Karen Heuler (ChiZine) - Heuler presents an engrossing collection of 15 tales of the ways individuals and society influence one another. Though the universally strong stories have no explicit connection, they blend to suggest a world that is at once recognizable and distorted, providing a new, clear perspective on the forces shaping contemporary Western culture.
If a Stranger Approaches You by Laura Kasischke (Sarabande) - In Kasischke’s moody first collection of stories (after eight novels and eight poetry collections, including the NBCC Award–winning Space, in Chains), characters are ill equipped to handle anger and fear, and they find their old refuges lacking. A slim but winning collection.
How to Live a Life of Crime by Kirsten Miller (Razorbill) - Ever since running away from military school, 17-year-old Flick has been making ends meet as a thief on the streets of New York City; his eventual goal is to avenge the death of his brother. After a heist, Flick is recruited to join the prestigious Mandel Academy, a private school whose actual purpose is to train kids in everything from extortion to murder.
Nothing Gold Can Stay by Ron Rash (Ecco) - Rash’s latest short fiction collection explores the often harsh vicissitudes of life in North Carolina. In the title story, two drug-addicted friends make plans to rob a former employer of his WWII souvenir, while “Night Hawks” features a former teacher with a self-inflicted facial scar who seeks refuge as a late-night radio DJ. Rash’s period stories, though, make the biggest impression.
China Goes Global: The Partial Power by David Shambaugh (Oxford Univ.) – A “dissatisfied and angry power” that is “not ready for global leadership” is the verdict from this measured, deflating assessment of China’s global presence. An illuminating profile of a colossus that does not—yet—bestride the world.