Skinner

Charlie Huston. Little, Brown/Mulholland, $25.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-316-13372-2

Skinner, the hero of this exceptionally smart thriller from Huston (Sleepless), gets his name from having been raised for the first 12 years of his life inside a Skinner box—a chamber devised by 20th-century psychologist B.F. Skinner to conduct behavioral psychology experiments on animals. A former CIA agent whose early isolation has made him particularly suited to the trade of killing, Skinner is now a highly paid security technician who specializes in guarding clients, known as “assets.” One such asset is Jae, a genius analyst who likes to spend her time wandering an unnamed desert taking drugs and building tiny robots. The mysterious Terrence, who used to run the security firm Kestrel Dynamics, has worked up a solo operation for Skinner and Jae, which eventually leads them to a momentous discovery in the streets of Dharavi, a slum in the city of Bombay. Stunningly original characters, wildly surprising twists, and an ending that’s both unexpected and moving make this an extraordinary genre stand-alone. This is the sort of book you want to reread just to see how the trick was done. Agent: Simon Lipskar, Writers House. (July)