This week, Colm Toibin on Elizabeth Bishop, and a new Sherlock Holmes mystery.

The Tightrope Walkers by David Almond (Candlewick) - In a powerfully realistic bildungsroman from award-winning author Almond (The True Tale of the Monster Billy Dean), Dominic Hall, the son of a working man from Newcastle, seems destined for greater success than was possible for his ill-educated and often angry father. It’s the late 1960s, and the times are definitely changing. Though Dom “was born in a hovel on the banks of the Tyne, as so many of us were back then,” his quick mind has opened up to him a wider world of ideas and the chance to be the first in his family to attend college. Like good and bad angels on either shoulder, however, are his friends, Holly Stroud, an eccentric child of the middle-class, and Vincent McAlinden, an incorrigible and sometimes frightening troublemaker who shares the Halls’ blue-collar background. Dom is drawn in opposite directions by these two as he negotiates a difficult, sometimes dangerous world.

All Who Go Do Not Return by Shulem Deen (Graywolf) - When Deen, a former member of the Skverer Hasids, realizes he has lost his faith, he must admit that he no longer belongs in the only world he has ever known. Deen's parents were “returnees" who came from secular upbringings and educations, raising their children in an observant but also more enlightened household than those in his Brooklyn community. Deen seeks out the Skverers for his studies, but early on there are signs of the troubles to come: a rebellious attitude that leads to a physical altercation with a teacher and two expulsions. Back on the straight and narrow, he enters into an unwelcome arranged marriage at 18 and struggles with typical concerns like loving a stranger and getting a job. He raises doubts and questions and needs to know what's outside the strict confines of his sheltered and scrutinized existence. Consumed by paranoia at being found out a fraud, he continues with pretense and deception. When he is branded a heretic, he finally must decide what path to take. It is a heartbreaking read as Deen fights to reconcile his identity and love for his family with his loss of faith in God. But it is also one of great courage and hope as Deen aspires to live openly and without fear for the first time.

Notes from a Dead House by Fyodor Dostoevsky, trans. from the Russian by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky (Knopf) - In April 1849, Fyodor Dostoevsky was arrested for his participation in an underground socialist ring. After his death sentence was commuted at the last minute, he spent four years doing hard labor in Siberia. The classic penal memoir that resulted is the latest to be translated by the acclaimed Pevear and Volokhonsky. The work is a loosely fictionalized account of Dostoevsky’s experience, framed by the voice of a fictional editor who acquires the papers of Alexander Petrovich Goryanchikov, an exiled nobleman who suffered 10 years of hard labor for the murder of his wife. Yet the book is organized as a collection of thematic sketches, rather than chronologically—“First Impressions,” “Christmas,” “The Hospital,” etc.—which are drawn from Dostoevsky’s memories and notes, written in prison and entrusted to a medical assistant who returned them upon his release. The notes are equal parts an anthropology of prison (how to smuggle vodka in a bull’s intestines, the lyrics to prison folk songs, biographical sketches of various condemned men, and an account of the ecology of prison politics) and equal parts philosophy, meditating on the use of prison as punishment, the psychology of an executioner (“It is hard to conceive how far human nature can be distorted”), and a nobleman’s perennial otherness within a prison’s walls (“I would never be accepted as a comrade”).

Someone Is Watching by Joy Fielding (Ballantine) - This engrossing standalone from bestseller Fielding (Shadow Creek) makes you care about Bailey Carpenter, a Miami-based investigator who’s raped while on surveillance. Previously, the biggest problems in Bailey’s life had been her mother’s death, her affair with a married colleague, and her five half-siblings’ attempt to overturn their father’s will, which left millions to Bailey and her often-stoned brother, Heath. Now Claire, a nurse as well as the half-sister Bailey barely knows, becomes her guardian angel as she starts on her slow path to recovery. Not sleeping and afraid to leave her high-rise apartment, Bailey suspects every man of evil intent, and she has a number of encounters, both frightening and embarrassing, in her quest to re-establish some control over her life. The characters pulsate with life, and there are a few shocks in store—for Bailey and the reader—before the denouement. And the presence of Jade, Claire’s outspoken teen daughter, blows everyone else off the page.

Half Wild by Sally Green (Viking) - This riveting second entry in Green’s Half Bad trilogy continues the story of Nathan, the outcast child of Black and White Witches, as he struggles to find his bearings amid a deadly power struggle in the witch world. Simultaneously, Nathan attempts to control his newfound magical Gifts and comprehend the prophecy that claims he will kill his father, Marcus, the most feared Black Witch in Europe. Along with a handful of (mostly) trustworthy allies, Nathan sets out to rescue love interest Annalise, who has been trapped in a deathlike coma, and becomes involved in the formation of a tentative alliance of Black and White Witches, sworn to overthrow the corrupt Council. Although this tale has some of the weaknesses inherent in bridge novels (despite explanatory references to events in Half Bad, readers will need to start with that book), it features the same powerful language, well-developed characters, fascinating magic, and harrowing action sequences as its predecessor and will leave its readers anxiously awaiting the final volume.

The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China by Huan Hsu (Crown) - American-born journalist Hsu hears that his great-great grandfather, a landowner in Xingang, buried a large collection of porcelain when Japan invaded China in 1938. Hsu sets out to find this treasure trove more than 70 years later. The book recounts Hsu's travel to China and ensuing three-year search, "equipped with only a few threads of a family legend and an irresistible compulsion to know more about it." This compulsion drives the story as he meets and interviews family members and acquaintances, and gradually "unearth[s] pieces of [his] family's history and [tries] to weave them into a coherent narrative." He conducts his search, in his own words, "naïvely, indirectly, [and] protractedly." While it is hard to argue with this characterization of the search and the book as a whole, the book's naïveté and indirectness enable the narrative to wander across genres. In addition to documentary and family history, Hsu explores China's social and political history, as well as his personal feelings about China, and the value of documenting and sharing Chinese family stories.

Analytical Psychology in Exile: The Corresopndence of C.G. Jung and Erich Neumann edited by Martin Liebscher and trans. from the German by Heather McCartney (Princeton Univ.) - Erich Neumann’s place in the history of analytical psychology may finally find the positive reassessment it deserves via this collection of his correspondence with Carl Jung. The letters run from 1933, when the two first met, to 1959, shortly before Neumann’s death in 1960. Neumann proves an able interlocutor of his famous correspondent, critically engaged with both theory and practice while thoughtfully reconsidering the relation of Jung’s thought to Jewish identity. Editor Liebscher’s introduction sees Neumann’s theories as realigning familiar Jungian archetypes, in particular that of the Great Mother, which Neumann positions as a counterweight against the “Platonic-Christian hostility toward the body and sexuality.” The correspondences also illuminate institutional politics among Jung’s disciples, exploring issues of anti-Semitism (of which Jung was accused) and Zionism (Neumann left Germany for Palestine in 1934). Perhaps most importantly, these letters allow us to see a mutually enriching exchange of ideas that formed a significant, though underappreciated, passage of intellectual history. This is essential reading for anyone interested in the theoretical origins of psychoanalysis.

A Reunion of Ghosts by Judith Claire Mitchell (Harper) - Mitchell’s triumphant second novel (The Last Day of the War) explores love, identity, and the burdens of history in coruscating, darkly comic prose. As the 20th century closes, Lady, Delph, and Vee Alter decide to kill themselves. The decision is not surprising; the middle-aged sisters embrace the chart of previous family suicides that hangs in their New York apartment as a source of “reassuring inevitability.” Departing from Alter tradition, however, they decide to leave a suicide note, intertwining their own narratives into their family’s complex history. At the heart of it is German Jew turned Lutheran Lenz Alter, who invented the chemical process that created the chlorine gas used in WWI and a predecessor to Zyklon B, used in Nazi death camps. His culpability seemed to poison the generations, as Lenz; his wife, Iris; their son, Richard; and Richard’s three daughters (one of whom is the mother of Lady, Delph, and Vee) all died by their own hands. Or so the sisters think, until a surprising visitation suggests that the family curse is not as defining as it seems. Moving nimbly through time and balancing her weightier themes with the sharply funny, fiercely unsentimental perspectives of her three protagonists—each distinct, yet also, as their name suggests, at “different stages of a single life”—Mitchell’s fictional suicide note is poignant and pulsing with life.

Company of Heroes: A Forgotten Medal of Honor and Bravo Company's War in Vietnam by Eric Poole (Osprey) - In November 1969, Leslie Halasz Sabo, the newly-married, youngest son of Hungarian immigrants, shipped off to Vietnam to join the 101st Airborne Division's 506th Infantry Regiment, known as the “Currahees." Sabo's comrades-in-arms admired his sense of honor and no-nonsense approach to the grim duties of warfare. On Mother's Day 1970, Sabo's Bravo Company was ambushed by North Vietnamese troops and he died in a fierce firefight on the Cambodian border trying to save wounded soldiers. Though nominated for the Medal of Honor, a bureaucratic snafu ensued and all traces of Sabo's deeds vanished. An accidental find by an intrepid amateur military historian set in motion the events that reunited the ambush survivors at the White House, where they would meet the Sabo family who had known nothing about Leslie's heroism. Journalist Poole, who first reported Sabo's story for the Ellwood City Ledger, masterfully conveys Sabo's life: his upbringing by wealthy parents who fled Hungary during WWII; his strong connection to his older brother, and the deep imprint that the rural community made on him. Where Poole truly excels, however, is in his portrayals of the gruesome work of war, depicting the maniacal seesaw between death at its most visceral and the simple pleasures of news from home.

Night at the Fiestas by Kirsten Valdez Quade (Norton) - All the characters in Quade’s auspicious debut collection of 10 stories live in New Mexico, but it’s a tribute to her artistry that each story feels vivid and new. Quade’s ability to depict an entire world within the limitations of a single story, and to produce a collection with both unity and breadth, is reminiscent of Alice Munro. In the title story, a restless girl named Frances, on the brink of adolescence, looks beyond her small world—her father is a bus driver taking revelers to an annual celebration, and her older cousin Nancy wants only to drink and flirt. The opening story, “Nemecia,” also involves an older female cousin, the title character, whom the narrator views with a complex mix of awe, jealousy, and fear. “The Guesthouse” brings a contentious family together on the occasion of a grandmother’s funeral. In “Ordinary Sins,” pregnant Crystal has tumultuous and layered relationships with a pair of priests. The final story, “The Manzanos,” which focuses on grief through the eyes and mind of a young girl, is an emotional tour de force.

The Fifth Heart by Dan Simmons (Little, Brown) - In Paris in 1893, Sherlock Holmes and Henry James join forces in this outstanding novel from Simmons, who has concocted something far from the usual pastiche, with a historical figure standing in for Dr. Watson. James, the distinguished American author, is about to kill himself by plunging into the Seine, overcome by crippling depression. Just before stepping off le pont Neuf, he notices a man with an aquiline profile standing nearby; he quickly ascertains that the man is actually Holmes, believed to have perished with Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls two years earlier. James is shocked to learn that Holmes was himself on the verge of taking his own life—because the detective has discovered that he’s merely a “literary construct.” His evidence? The same inconsistencies in the original Conan Doyle stories that have provided fodder for Sherlockians for a century. This chance meeting dissuades both men from committing suicide, and they resolve to travel to America and investigate the purported suicide of diplomat Henry Adams’s wife, Clover, in 1885. Simmons (Drood) knows the Holmes canon and uses that expertise in the service of a highly original reimagining of the beloved sleuth.

On Elizabeth Bishop by Colm Toibin (Princeton Univ.) - Novelist Tóibín (Nora Webster) gives an intimate and engaging look at Elizabeth Bishop’s poetry and its influence on his own work. Tóibín begins with an account of Bishop’s guiding principles for writing poetry, including that the words be “precise and exact.” The same precision that Tóibín finds in Bishop’s work marks his writing here. Without attempting a comprehensive biography, he traces Bishop’s life from her childhood in Nova Scotia to her moves to Key West and later to Boston, detailing turning points like her mother’s time in a mental institution and the suicide of her lover Lota de Macedo Soares. Other writers appear, either through their own relationships with Bishop—such as Thom Gunn, Mary McCarthy, Marianne Moore, and Robert Lowell, whom Bishop called her best friend—or in comparison with Bishop as writers, such as James Joyce. The portrait of Bishop that emerges shows her as protective of her voice as a poet, reserved, but not unkind, and “distant from the reader.” Tóibín is also present in the book, and his relationship to Bishop’s work and admiration of her style gives the book much of its power. Whether one is familiar with Bishop’s life and work or is looking to Tóibín to learn more, this book will appeal to many readers.

We All Looked Up by Tommy Wallach (S&S) - An asteroid named Ardor is on course to destroy the world. As four Seattle teenagers count down the weeks until impact, they wrestle with the meaning of their lives and their possible deaths. Peter, a basketball golden boy, must decide if he should save his sister from her nihilistic boyfriend and whether true love is worth ignoring the status quo. Eliza, a photographer with an unseemly reputation, negotiates her father’s cancer diagnosis, her mother’s abandonment, and the need to chronicle the chaos erupting around her, while finding herself drawn to Peter. Rounding out the story’s rotating voices are Anita, a straight-A student who just wants to sing, and Andy, a slacker who must decide where his loyalties lie and how to handle his dangerous friends. Debut novelist Wallach increases the tension among characters throughout, ending in a shocking climax that resonates with religious symbolism. Stark scenes alternating between anarchy and police states are counterbalanced by deepening emotional ties and ethical dilemmas, creating a novel that asks far bigger questions than it answers.