This week: the latest from C.J. Box, plus a superb mystery set in 1951 Tokyo.
In bestseller Box’s superlative 18th novel featuring Wyoming game warden Joe Pickett (after 2017’s Vicious Circle), the state’s new governor, Colter Allen, orders Joe, who did many special investigations for the previous governor, to find out what happened to the CEO of a high-profile British advertising agency, Kate Shelford-Longden, who has gone missing after vacationing at the Silver Creek Ranch outside Saratoga. Given suspiciously few resources and very little time, Joe is happy to accept the help of both his 23-year-old daughter, Sheridan, who works as a wrangler at the ranch, and comrade Nate Romanowski, who predictably approaches the case from beyond the law’s boundaries. Meanwhile, the lethal Gaylen Kessel, the head security agent for the wind energy company that has taken over the region, makes trouble. In the end, Sheridan and Nate must deal out rough justice to the malefactors, while the book’s key environmental issue enhances the satisfying conclusion. Also welcome are Box’s underrated touches of wry humor, generally overlooked as one of his strengths. Series fans and newcomers alike will be rewarded.
Unlike her flirtatious Korean mother, Penny Lee doesn’t have much of a social life, but she hopes that things will change when she goes off to college in Austin, Tex., to pursue becoming a writer. She soon meets Sam, her roommate’s 21-year-old uncle, a college dropout and talented baker who works (and lives) at a local coffee house. They barely know each other, but, after Penny catches Sam in a vulnerable moment (he thinks he’s having a heart attack but is actually suffering from anxiety) they agree to be each other’s emergency contacts. Soon, they are exchanging texts and sharing secrets they’ve never divulged. In her first novel, writer and reporter Choi sensitively shows the evolution of two lonely, complicated people who slowly emerge from their shells to risk an intimate relationship. Her sharp wit and skillful character development (of Penny’s mother: “in jeans and a faded T-shirt that read Slay Hunty, Celeste resembled an incoming freshman as much as Penny did”) ensure that readers will feel that they know Penny and Sam inside and out before the gratifying conclusion. Ages 14–up.
This series kickoff, which is also the first book from the Rick Riordan Presents imprint, expertly channels the humor and action that have made Riordan’s own work so successful. Twelve-year-old Aru Shah lives with her mother in the Museum of Ancient Indian Art and Culture in Atlanta. Aru’s tendency to bend the truth gets her into trouble when three of her classmates dare her to light a supposedly cursed lamp called a diya, which awakens the demonic Sleeper. With the help of her guardian, a pigeon named Subala, Aru learns that she is the reincarnation of one of five Pandava brothers, each the child of a different god. Aru meets one of her “soul-related” siblings, smart but timid Mini, and they head off to stop the Sleeper from reaching Shiva, Lord of Destruction. With her quick wit and big personality, Aru commands the spotlight (“I’m an A student,” she boasts to a doubtful Subala. “In the sense that she was a student whose name started with an A”), and Chokshi (The Star-Touched Queen) weaves an engrossing adventure that will leave readers anticipating the next installment. Ages 8–12.
After being brought together by an accident in New York City’s Central Park, three struggling teenagers form a fast, powerful friendship in Forman’s elegant and understated novel, which alternates between their day together and flashback sections that carefully expose her characters’ losses. Freya, a singer on the cusp of stardom, has lost her voice, her sister, and her father. Harun has been dumped by the boyfriend he’s terrified to tell his Muslim family about. And Nathaniel has landed in New York City alone, leaving behind an unpredictable father incapable of caring for him. Forman (If I Stay) occasionally references the parable of the boiling frog, in which a frog in a pot of water doesn’t notice a gradual increase in temperature and is eventually cooked to death. In some ways, she performs a similar trick: readers may be so caught up in the intensity and warmth of the bond Freya, Harun, and Nathaniel form that they’re caught off guard by their story’s final act. But readers won’t finish the novel lost or bereft; this is a celebration of the lifesaving power of human connection. Ages 14–up.
In this intense memoir, Hinton recounts his three-decade nightmare: awaiting execution for crimes he didn’t commit. In 1985, Hinton, then 29, was charged with a series of violent robberies as well as the murders of two restaurant managers in Birmingham, Ala. Hinton passed a polygraph test and was in a locked warehouse during one robbery, but that didn’t prevent an all-white jury from finding him guilty after only two hours (the death penalty recommendation took another 45 minutes). Hinton here provides a convincing description of continued segregation and injustice in the deep South that cages the underclass as effectively as prison walls. His depictions of prison life are wrenching, as when he recalls the 1987 electric chair execution of Wayne Ritter and how the smell of Ritter’s burning flesh “burned my nose and stung my throat.” Forced to hone his mind to withstand overwhelming isolation, Hinton read voraciously and studied his case. With the unwavering support of his mother and his best friend, Hinton created a fulfilling life for himself, which included running a book club for death row inmates. After many years, his dogged pursuit of justice led civil rights attorney Bryan Stephenson to adopt his cause. Hinton was freed from prison in 2015, and now works as a motivational speaker. Hinton’s life is one of inspiration, which he wonderfully relays here in bitingly honest prose.
Novelist and physicist Lightman (The Accidental Universe) mesmerizes in this collection of essays that explores the connections between scientific ideas and the wider world. He sets his stage neatly, with an evocative memory of gazing up at the starry night sky while in a little boat drifting near a small island off the coast of Maine. There he found himself “falling into infinity” as he gazed into the cosmos: “I felt a merging with something far larger than myself, a grand and eternal unity, a hint of something absolute.” Absolutes, Lightman writes, are comforting because they allow humans to “imagine perfection.” This idea echoes in essays that focus on such topics as ants, stars, death, and truth. Lightman discusses the big bang, prehistoric cave paintings, the nature of humanity, and more as he moves lithely from Galileo to van Gogh, Einstein to Emily Dickinson, and St. Augustine to Arctic explorer Robert Peary. More philosophy of science than hard science, this is a volume meant for savoring, for readerly ruminations, for thinking about and exploring one essay at a time. Lightman’s illuminating language and crisp imagery aim to ignite a sense of wonder in any reader who’s ever pondered the universe, our world, and the nature of human consciousness.
A psychologist and a publisher join forces to untangle the secret behind the “obstinate separation” between two identical twins in this jaunty novel from the lauded experimentalist Mathews (1930–2017). Berenice and Andreas fall in love immediately upon meeting in the “extenuated fishing village of immemorial origin” where they have each arrived, seeking to befriend the town’s most famous residents. Locals Geoffrey and Margot Hyde agree to help, introducing Berenice and Andreas to a woman who claims to be sleeping with both twins, but even her aid isn’t enough to convince the twins to agree to be interviewed. Thwarted, the couple settles into a routine of telling stories over dinner with the Hydes. The stories expose hidden ties between the participants, and Mathews joins in the fun, with the third-person narrator being unmasked as Berenice herself (what was first “a kind of journal” she explains, has “unexpectedly changing into a memoir”). As the novel circles closer to the grand reveal promised by its title, Mathews toys with the reader’s “desire to resolve the irresolute, to conclude the incomplete, to have the crooked made straight.” The result is an undeniably clever parting shot from one of contemporary literature’s most playfully challenging writers.
Photographer Moore’s harrowing photo essay, the culmination of over a decade of work, documents the grueling immigration process for undocumented Mexicans and Central American coming to U.S., from the abject poverty and vicious gang violence that often propels them to leave to their everyday experiences once established in the United States. Some of the most haunting photographs depict the physical journey across the borders. A series of photos details the notoriously dangerous journey atop a freight train known as “the Beast”: dozens of migrants piled on top of the train in the blazing sun, a Nicaraguan immigrant clad in a plastic bag on the train during a thunderstorm. In addition to action shots, Moore includes yearbook-style layouts of headshots of Honduran gang members, trainee border agents, undocumented inmates serving time in an Arizona jail, and newly naturalized U.S. citizens. Essays by Elyse Gobb, director at the National Center for Border Security and Immigration at the University of Arizona, and Jeanette Vizguerra, an immigration rights activist and undocumented mother living in Colorado, offer additional context and are provided in both Spanish and English. The book paints a sobering picture of the undocumented Mexican and Central American immigrant experience.
Murder on Shades Mountain: The Legal Lynching of Willie Peterson and the Struggle for Justice in Jim Crow Birmingham
In this passionate account of Jim Crow–era injustice, educator and activist Morrison (The Grace of Coming Home) exposes how courtrooms “could function like lynch mobs when the defendant was black.” Birmingham, Ala., during the Depression was riven by racial, political, and economic tensions. An afternoon excursion in 1931 by three young white women resulted in the deaths by gunshot of two of them: Augusta Williams and Jennie Wood. The sole survivor, Augusta’s 18-year-old sister, Nell, was put under intense pressure to identify the murderer, who she claimed was a black man. Weeks later, Nell pointed at a passerby on the street, Willie Peterson, and claimed that he was the guilty party. Awaiting trial, Peterson was shot in jail by Nell and Augusta’s brother, Dent, but survived and attracted the assistance of the International Labor Defense, the NAACP, and eminent black legal scholar Charles Hamilton Houston. Despite this high-powered help, Peterson was sentenced to death, while Dent Williams, pleading temporary insanity, walked free. Alabama governor Benjamin Miller subsequently expressed “grave doubts” regarding Peterson’s guilt and in 1934 commuted Peterson’s sentence to life imprisonment. Peterson died of chronic tuberculosis in Kilby Prison in 1940, aged 46. Morrison, who is white, shares this painful story with clarity and compassion, emphasizing how much has changed since the 1930s, how much white people need to “critically interrogate” the past, and how much “remains to be done” in the fight for justice.
Originally published in 1962, Togawa’s first novel is an outstanding puzzle mystery. In a prologue, set in 1951 Tokyo, an unidentified man, dressed as a woman, tries to cross a busy street against the light and is fatally struck by a van. A nameless woman living in the K Apartments for Ladies waits alone for seven years for the dead man’s return—and is still waiting. Flash back to three days before the accident. The man carries a traveling bag containing a child’s corpse to the woman’s apartment. Hours later they bury the body in the building’s basement, an act witnessed—unbeknownst to them—by a third person. Most of the action takes place seven years after these events, when the tenants of the building, mainly women leading secluded and lonely lives, are scheduled to be moved and their numerous secrets are threatened to be revealed. The gradual, logical, but still surprising unfolding of the Russian nesting doll of a plot is a delight.
In this ruminative memoir, Yurchyshyn examines her parents’ past and tries to understand how their once-passionate marriage unraveled. In 2010, when Yurchyshyn was 32, her mother died from heart failure and alcoholism, leaving behind an empty Boston home filled with relics from her marriage, among them pictures and souvenirs from travels abroad and letters from her husband. Yurchyshyn’s father died in a car accident in Ukraine in 1994, when he was already alienated from his daughter and wife. Yurchyshyn had assumed that their lives had always been fraught with tension—that her father had been abusive, violent, and distant; that her mother had been depressed and drunk. Her father’s love letters revealed another story, one that Yurchyshyn tells with honesty and great care: “When I found my parents’ letters, I had to surrender the people I’d constructed from my experiences, observations, and assumptions so I could meet them for the first time.” Yurchyshyn highlights her parents’ happy early marriage—its joys, their exotic travels through the Middle East and Asia. Through discussions with her mother’s friends, Yurchyshyn learns about how the death of her brother Yuri from pneumonia before she was born changed her parents, leaving her mother isolated in her grief. This is a fascinating and insightful memoir about how relationships evolve and change, even after death.