This week: the thriller from Bill Clinton and James Patterson, plus new books from Lauren Groff, Rachel Cusk, and more.
In the introduction to this excellent anthology, Abani welcomes readers to Lagos, Nigeria, a city of more than 21 million and an amazing amalgam of wealth, poverty, corruption, humor, bravery, and tragedy. Abani and a dozen other contributors tell stories that are both unique to Lagos and universal in their humanity. An ambitious and observant policeman investigates the murder of a white woman, one of a series of crimes, in Jude Dibia’s “What They Did That Night.” A taxi driver’s newfound riches disappear quickly in Chika Unigwe’s “Heaven’s Gate.” A Bunyanesque hero stars in Nnedi Okorafor’s amusing “Showlogo.” A father bullies his rebellious daughter in Sarah Ladipo Manyika’s “The Swimming Pool.” A childless husband and wife pin their hopes on a powerful pastor in Onyinye Ihezukwu’s “For Baby, for Three.” Abani closes the volume with the witty “Killer Ape,” about Det. Sgt. James Okoro, who idolizes Sherlock Holmes and welcomes the chance to solve a crime supposedly committed by a chimpanzee. This entry stands as one of the strongest recent additions to Akashic’s popular noir series.
“In the days after I’d watched my house burn, a great weight lifted,” Auvinen writes in this beautiful, contemplative memoir. After a fire destroyed Auvinen’s Colorado Front Range Rocky Mountain home and belongings when she was nearly 40, she moved to an isolated mountain community in the same state. “I felt strangely euphoric,” she writes, “no longer saddled with counting every penny for rent or bills, unburdened by a house full of goods that required care, cleaning, or mending. Mine was the ecstasy of the unencumbered.” She watched the seasons unfold, with Elvis, her faithful dog, at her side. It is Elvis—and her vital relationship with him—that’s at the core of the book. “Elvis had long been my eyes, my ears, but now I realized he was also my guru, my guide: His presence reminded me to play now, sleep now, explore now, be now.” Her narrative builds slowly but intensely. Auvinen shares rich details of mountain life: “Living wild succinctly arranges priorities: You make food, take shelter, stay warm,” her life lived “like a ritual, equal to meditation or the ritual I had of writing down weather and birds each morning.” This breathtaking memoir honors the wildness of the Rockies and shows readers how they might come to rely on their animal companions.
Fans of the cult classic Poison Ivy will appreciate the mousy girl–wild girl dynamic on display in Burton’s fiendishly clever debut. At 29, insecure Louise Wilson is a would-be writer living in fear of the dictum, “if you haven’t made it in New York by 30, you never will.” All that changes when she meets 23-year-old socialite Lavinia Williams, who seems to be channeling the free spirit of the late Zelda Fitzgerald (with flapper dresses to match). Larger-than-life Lavinia takes Louise under her wing and introduces her new bestie to a Manhattan she never knew existed, including parties in haunted hotels and secret bookstores and people with names like Beowulf Marmont and Athena Maidenhead, all the while dressing as if for a costume ball that never ends. Only later does Louise experience the hateful, spiteful, jealous side of Lavinia’s personality in what becomes an ingenious dark thriller in the Patricia Highsmith Tom Ripley mode. Louise and Lavinia are bold, brilliant characters. This devious, satisfying novel perfectly captures a very narrow slice of the Manhattan demimonde.
Former president Clinton (My Life) and bestseller Patterson (The People vs. Alex Cross) deliver a page-turning thriller that rivals the best work of such genre titans as Brad Meltzer and Vince Flynn. President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan is un-der fire from the House Select Committee for allegedly ordering a team of Special Forces and CIA operatives to Algeria to thwart an attempt on the life of Turkish-born terrorist Suliman Cindoruk, leader of the Sons of Jihad. Hostile committee members repeatedly ask him questions about the raid that he refuses to answer. But Duncan’s concerns about the out-come of congressional hearings into his actions are secondary to his fears that a computer virus is about to be activated that would completely cripple the United States. In order to avert that calamity, Duncan leaves the White House and his protective detail behind and attempts to gain the confidence of the shadowy figures who revealed the existence of the threat. The authors keep the suspense high as Duncan dodges bullets from a master assassin, deals with his deteriorating health from a blood clotting disorder, and strives to unmask a traitor among his inner circle of advisers. Fans of the TV series 24 and the movie Air Force One will be riveted.
Cooley (Girl After Girl) brings an impressive range of literary forms, voices, and conceptual lenses to bear on lingering questions about language and intimacy in her accomplished seventh collection. Utilizing tankas, triolets, dictionary definitions, and linguistic portraits, Cooley places vastly different styles and traditions in dialogue with one another. As the collection unfolds, her formal dexterity evokes both limitlessness and constraint, mirroring the speaker’s commitment, but also her ambivalence and her visible trepidation: “I twist/ the wedding beads around my neck. I’ve lost/ my ring, silver and antique.” The line breaks convey a palpable sense of unease as they wind through a form that is described as a “daybook.” The seemingly unnatural pauses created by Cooley’s enjambment suggest the speaker’s hesitation as her modern voice is made to fit the confines of literary tradition in much the same way that a complex and multifarious life is situated within what is here portrayed as the thoroughly unmodern framework of marriage. Cooley thus remains ever vigilant in dangerous terrain, however tamed: “We stand together in the glass garden made of sand and fire.” Throughout, Cooley fearlessly weaves together threads on inadequacy, the inability of the individual to achieve a kind of selfless intimacy, and the shortcomings of the iconic, long-standing institutions so often perceived as emblematic of closeness, self-sacrifice, and commitment.
Cusk’s final book in a trilogy (after Outline and Transit) expertly concludes the story of protagonist Faye, a British author, as she travels Europe to speak at writers’ conferences and give interviews. Since the events of the previous book, Faye has remarried and her sons have grown into teenagers, one of whom is preparing to leave for university to study art history. Yet the novel, like its predecessors, eschews chronicling Faye’s life via traditional narrative, instead filling each page with conversations with and monologues by the many writers, journalists, and publicists she meets during her travels. Shifting away from the last book’s focus on life’s journey, Cusk now places Faye in a series of back-and-forths on duality in family, art, and representation. In Germany, Faye talks to an interviewer about jealousy. Later, a young tour guide explains his thoughts on education, gender, and rewarding intelligence (it is here where the novel receives its title); at another stop, Faye is audience to a series of journalists who discuss honesty and workplace inequality. As always, Cusk’s ear for dialogue and language is stunning. The author ends Faye’s trilogy with yet another gem.
In DelBianco’s furious and electric debut, a contemporary western, Wyatt and Lucy Smith are twins living a hardscrabble existence on a cattle ranch in Box Elder County, Utah. Early one morning, Wyatt discovers that one of his steers has been fatally shot. The killer is a barely-teenaged girl, who, during a brief shoot-out, wounds Wyatt and kills three more of his cattle before escaping. Knowing the entire ranch enterprise has been economically doomed by the shooting, Wyatt decides to go after the girl, who is wounded herself, and demand restitution. With Lucy holding down the fort, Wyatt follows the girl south towards Salt Lake City, tracking her through an inhospitable desert of armed outlaw bikers, camouflaged meth labs, drug deals gone wrong, and hungry coyote packs. Interspersed with Wyatt’s narrative are flashbacks to the twins being raised by their father, who schools them in the cruel lessons of nature. Although clearly influenced by the prose styles of Cormac McCarthy and the late Jim Harrison, DelBianco nevertheless develops her own distinct voice, alternately laconic and roughly poetic. And though the girl is more device than actual character, the novel succeeds as a viscerally evoked and sparely plotted fever dream, a bleakly realized odyssey through an American west populated by survivors and failed dreamers.
Ferocious weather and self-destructive impulses plague the characters in this assured collection, the first from Groff (Fates and Furies) since 2009’s Delicate Edible Birds. In “Above and Below,” a grad student loses her university funding and spirals into homelessness. The solo vacationer in “Salvador”—one of three stories set outside Florida—waits out a raging storm with a menacing shopkeeper who, after the harrowing night, “smelled of wet denim and sweated-out alcohol and sour private skin.” Groff’s descriptions shimmer with precision: in “Eyewall,” at the onset of a hurricane that a hallucinating woman endures alone, “the lake goosebumped” and “the house sucked in a shuddery breath.” On a family getaway to a cheerless cabin in the claustrophobic “The Midnight Zone,” a woman notes “how the screens at night pulsed with the tender bellies of lizards.” That story is one of five to feature an unnamed fretful mother and novelist who, in “Yport,” has dragged her two young sons to France while she researches Guy de Maupassant. “Their world is so full of beauty,” she says, fearing for the boys’ future, “the last terrible flash of beauty before the darkness.” Groff’s skillful prose, self-awareness, and dark humor leaven the bleakness, making this a consistently rewarding collection.
The legendary investigative journalist for the New York Times and the New Yorker recalls his struggles to uncover government secrets—and get them printed—in this powerful memoir. Hersh recounts his career unearthing epochal stories, from the 1968 massacre of Vietnamese civilians by American troops at My Lai and Watergate revelations to abuses at the Abu Ghraib military prison during the Iraq War. There’s gripping journalistic intrigue aplenty as he susses out sources and documents, fences with officials, and fields death threats. His pursuit of My Lai perpetrator William Calley, which saw him barking bogus orders at soldiers and crawling through a Fort Benning barracks, feels like a Hollywood thriller. Almost as arduous are his efforts to get nervous editors to run incendiary articles while he navigated byzantine newsroom politics, especially his testy relationship with Times chief Abe Rosenthal, who emerges as a hybrid of courage and timidity. Along the way, Hersh paints pungent sketches of everyone from Henry Kissinger (“the man lied the way most people breathed”) to the “ass-kissing coterie of moronic editors” at the Times who watered down a piece on corporate skulduggery. Hersh himself is brash and direct, but never cynical, and his memoir is as riveting as the great journalistic exposés he produced.
This spectacular series launch from bestseller Horowitz (Magpie Murders), a scrupulously fair whodunit, features a fictionalized version of himself. The author’s doppelgänger—who, like his creator, has written a Sherlock Holmes pastiche, The House of Silk, and a Tintin movie script for Steven Spielberg—is approached by Daniel Hawthorne, a former detective inspector who once consulted on one of his TV series. Hawthorne wants Horowitz to turn his “real-life” cases into books, and eventually gets him to agree. Their first joint investigative venture concerns the strangulation of Diana Cowper in her London home, mere hours after she visited a funeral parlor and made detailed arrangements for her own funeral. (In one amusing metafictional scene, Hawthorne criticizes Horowitz for inaccuracies in chapter one, an omniscient third-person account of the funeral home visit.) An interrupted text Diana sent to her son shortly before her death leads the duo to look into a long-ago hit-and-run tragedy that claimed one twin child’s life and seriously injured the other. Deduction and wit are well-balanced, and fans of Peter Lovesey and other modern channelers of the spirit of the golden age of detection will clamor for more.
“The smell of blood woke me.” So says Han Yu-jin, a would-be law student with a history of seizures who lives in Incheon, at the start of South Korean author Jeong’s superlative thriller, her first to be translated into English. After he regains consciousness, Yu-jin follows an increasingly ominous trail of bloody handprints and footprints to the kitchen, where he finds his mother’s body. Her throat has been slit and her hands posed, clasped, on her chest. All Yu-jin can recall about the previous night is that he went out for a run around midnight in the rain to relieve his restlessness and saw a girl get off a bus. Did he kill his mother? His desperate efforts to sort out exactly what happened are intensified when his stepbrother and his aunt call to ask after his mother. Readers who enjoy grappling with the issue of a narrator’s reliability will relish Yu-jin, who believes that “being true to life wasn’t the only way to tell a story.”
Orange’s commanding debut chronicles contemporary Native Americans in Oakland, as their lives collide in the days leading up to the city’s inaugural Big Oakland Powwow. Bouncing between voices and points of view, Orange introduces 12 characters, their plotlines hinging on things like 3-D–printed handguns and VR-controlled drones. Tony Loneman and Octavio Gomez see the powwow as an opportunity to pay off drug debts via a brazen robbery. Others, like Edwin Black and Orvil Red Feather, view the gathering as a way to connect with ancestry and, in Edwin’s case, to meet his father for the first time. Blue, who was given up for adoption, travels to Oklahoma in an attempt to learn about her family, only to return to Oakland as the powwow’s coordinator. Orvil’s grandmother, Jacquie, who abandoned her family years earlier, reappears in the city with powwow emcee Harvey, whom she briefly dated when the duo lived on Alcatraz Island as adolescents. Time and again, the city is a magnet for these individuals. The propulsion of both the overall narrative and its players are breathtaking as Orange unpacks how decisions of the past mold the present, resulting in a haunting and gripping story.
The winning follow-up to Pearson’s bestselling I Don’t Know How She Does It is anchored by heroine Kate Reddy’s authentic, intelligent, and consistently funny British voice. When Kate’s architect husband is laid off and begins training as a therapist, the 49-year-old stay-at-home mother of two tries to return to the workforce. After a disastrous job interview confirms she has aged out of her field—she was formerly a jet-setting power player at an influential London brokerage firm—Kate starts lying about her age and is hired to market the very hedge fund she created years ago. Meanwhile, her daughter just texted a belfie (a “selfie of your bum”) to a friend, who posted it on Facebook; her son won’t look up from his phone; and she hasn’t had sex with her husband in months. Further muddying the waters is a man from her past, who reasserts himself in her life just as her marriage stagnates. Pearson maintains a humorous tone throughout, wresting laughs from her lead’s lowest moments and greatest triumphs. Pearson also hits the right notes in conveying the cluelessness and powerlessness parents feel raising teens obsessed by gaming and social media. Readers will cheer on Kate as she becomes a kick-butt woman of a certain age.
This thorough, well-sourced biography from Polly (Tapped Out) is an engrossing examination of the life of a martial arts movie star and his shocking, early death. Lee was born in San Francisco in 1940, but his family moved to Hong Kong shortly after his birth. He started acting there as a child, and at age 16 began studying under kung fu master Ip Man. In 1959, Lee moved to Seattle in pursuit of a career acting and teaching kung fu. He landed a few roles in American television series such as The Green Hornet, but, eager for better roles, he moved back to Hong Kong, where he starred in such action movies as Fist of Fury and The Way of the Dragon. Polly describes Lee as a patron of kung fu who “sought to straddle East and West” yet routinely faced racism (relatives of his wife, Linda, refused to attend their wedding in 1964). He possessed a volatile temper, a dangerously obsessive work ethic, and a propensity for extramarital affairs. In 1973, Lee collapsed and died while dubbing dialogue for Enter the Dragon, and Polly is especially strong as he sifts through the sensational aftermath of Lee’s death, rejecting tabloid rumors that he died in an actual fight and outdated medical opinions of death by “cannabis intoxication” in favor of the more logical cause—heatstroke, given Hong Kong’s heat wave that day. In what is certainly the definitive biography of Lee, Polly wonderfully profiles the man who constructed a new, masculine Asian archetype and ushered kung fu into pop culture.
Despite their different personalities, Emory and Hannah have been best friends and next-door neighbors since childhood. But after a bitter argument, which ends with Emory calling Hannah a “sheep” for always following her minister father’s beliefs, the two don’t speak as they continue their senior years at separate high schools. Emory focuses on her lead role in a school play and her forthcoming acting audition at UCLA. Hannah continues to play the role of devoted daughter at the Christian school where her father is principal, but she is haunted by Emory’s words and begins to question everything she’s been taught. Then Hannah finds Emory’s boyfriend Luke unconscious in front of her house, changing the lives of all three teens. Touching on weighty issues, including sexual harassment, religious crises, friendship, and taboo love, Stone (Time Between Us) writes a thought-provoking novel that challenges conventional ideas. With well-developed detail, the characters have realistic vulnerabilities and experience profound transformations that lead them to look at the world differently. Ages 14–18.
White’s brilliant first story collection (following the novel How to Survive a Summer) peels back the curtain on masculinity and identity in the Deep South. The stories are split into two parts—the first features misfits reeling from death, disillusionment, and trauma, while the second captures angles of aspiring writer Forney Culpepper’s life. Each illuminates sympathetic characters who feel painfully out of place, throwing the strangeness of their circumstances into sharp relief. In “Gaitlinburg,” a couple’s vacation in the Smoky Mountains is shadowed by the threat of a bear wandering the area—plus something more sinister—which exposes the relationship’s fault lines. “Lady Tigers” finds high school–aged Rusty serving as bus driver for a girls’ softball team formerly coached by his deceased father, until an accident reveals secrets linking him to one of the players. And in the title story, a young Forney watches his mother pursue a long dreamed-of singing career with irritation, until her performance at a cigarette smoke–choked club opens his eyes to her in a novel and terrifying way. White’s stirring stories probe the inextricable ways people’s identities are bound to and shaped by their environments, and what happens when they attempt to rise above. This is an atmospheric and expertly crafted collection.