This week: the latest from Nelson DeMille, plus a biography of Thomas Edison from a Pulitzer winner.
A patriarch’s death strains a family’s already fraught relationships in this dazzling novel from Attenberg (All Grown Up). Shady real estate developer Victor Tuchman suffers a heart attack in New Orleans and is rushed to the hospital. During his final, lingering day, his family mentally rehashes key moments of his life in hopes of understanding the man they are losing. His wife, Barbra, still annoyed about leaving their Connecticut mansion, occupies herself with obsessive walking while remembering Victor’s quick transition from shy suitor to abusive tyrant. His daughter, Alex, flies in from Chicago, desperate to know the truth about Victor’s criminal past, and begrudges her mother’s insistence she let it go and make peace. Victor’s son Gary, who is in Los Angeles to jump-start his career in the movies, avoids answering calls from the family and intentionally misses his flight. Gary’s wife, Twyla, slips into a nervous breakdown during a cosmetic shopping spree, slowly revealing the true root of her distress. As Victor fades, the family’s dysfunction comes to light and they make drastic choices about their future. Attenberg excels at revealing rich interior lives—not only for her main cast, but also for cameo characters—in direct, lucid prose. This is a delectable family saga.
The Peanuts Papers: Writers and Cartoonists on Charlie Brown, Snoopy & the Gang, and the Meaning of Life
The 33 essays, poems, and cartoons in this book, most original to the volume, are affectionate valentines to Charles M. Schulz’s much-loved comic strip, Peanuts—syndicated in newspapers from 1950 to 2000—that gauge the cultural impact of Charlie Brown, Snoopy, and the rest of the gang. Adam Gopnik, in “Good Griefs,” compares Schulz’s characters—kids who inhabit “the recognizable grown-up world of thwarted ambition and delusional longing”—to those of Chekhov and Salinger. Mona Simpson riffs on the theme of unrequited love rampant in the strip in “Triangle with Piano” and Sarah Boxer does the same on Snoopy the beagle’s self-invented heroic persona in “The Exemplary Narcissism of Snoopy.” Jonathan Lethem’s “Grief,” a Peanuts-referencing pastiche of Allen Ginsberg’s landmark poem “Howl,” is so perfect one could imagine a beat Linus (to whom it is dedicated) having written it. Editor Blauner includes appreciations of the animated Peanuts television specials and thought pieces ranging from the scholarly to the intimately personal by Umberto Eco, Jonathan Franzen, Maxine Hong Kingston, Rick Moody, and others. This is a heartwarming tribute to Schulz’s inimitable strip and the influence it had on its everyday audience.
The sins of the past cast a long shadow in bestseller Connelly’s superlative second novel featuring detectives Renée Ballard and Harry Bosch together (after 2018’s Dark Sacred Night). After the funeral of former LAPD Det. John Jack Thompson, the man’s widow gives Bosch a murder book that Thompson took when he left the force a couple of decades before. The cold case concerns the unsolved homicide of 24-year-old John Hilton, an addict who was killed in an alley in 1990. What’s unclear is why Bosch’s old mentor stole the murder book—to work the case himself in retirement, or to keep other detectives from working it? Bosch takes the book to Ballard, a kindred spirit; both are outliers with a shared fire for fighting injustice no matter where the trail leads. Meanwhile, defense attorney Mickey Haller enlists Bosch, his half-brother, to assist in defending a mentally ill man accused of murdering a superior court judge. Conflicting DNA evidence and a problematic confession complicate the high profile case. Connelly is without peer when it comes to police procedurals, and once again proves that he’s the modern master of the form.
This outstanding thriller from bestseller DeMille (The Cuban Affair) and his screenwriter son centers on a search for an Army deserter who has fled to Venezuela after escaping duty in Afghanistan under strange circumstances. On the hunt for Delta Force Capt. Kyle Mercer are Scott Brodie, a hardened ex-soldier with impulsive, rogue tendencies, and Maggie Taylor, a cunning by-the-book Army cop who does her best to rein in Brodie’s urges, both investigative and sexual. Brodie, the senior officer, quickly suspects his commanders aren’t telling him everything about Mercer; his desertion may have less to do with disobedience than his knowing too much about military atrocities in Afghanistan. Nonetheless, Brodie and Taylor track Mercer to a jungle hideout far outside Caracas, where he’s training a group of mercenaries with the apparent backing of President Maduro. In typical DeMille fashion, the last hundred pages move along like a ballistic missile, exploding in a satisfying finale on a remote airstrip. DeMille and son provide it all in this rumble through the jungle—authentic detail, lively dialogue, a vividly drawn setting, and an exhilarating plot.
Garcia, self-proclaimed “Oracle of Los Angeles,” shares the series of initiations that led to her practice as a professional witch, writer, and healer in her superb debut. Raised in Northern California, Garcia was introduced to the feminist practice of Goddess magic by her mother, but she rejected those teachings for years. After experiencing horrific abuse at the hands of a family member, she left home at 16 for San Francisco, drifted to Europe, then landed in Los Angeles to chase her dream of being an artist. Garcia realizes that, like magic, art made “the things we imagine visible to us; it pulls them into material reality and changes the way we experience the world.” Throughout her travels, she experiences visions that lead her thoughts back to witchcraft. Then, following a stint in grad school, she performs an official witch ceremony on her 30th birthday with members of her L.A. community and realizes “nothing could give me the satisfaction of witchcraft.” She also reveals times of personal “darkness,” such as working as a stripper and pursuing toxic relationships, crediting witchcraft for helping her escape: “The moment you stop seeing yourself as a supplicant and start seeing yourself as a participant, a coconspirator, an agent, that shift marks the moment you become a witch.” Effortlessly weaving Goddess myths from diverse cultures with her own life story, Garcia’s reverent, powerful work will encourage readers to forge their own values and join in her “re-enchantment” of the world.
In this excellent biography, George-Warren (A Man Called Destruction: The Life and Music of Alex Chilton) paints a complex portrait of singer Janis Joplin (1943–1970). Drawing on archival materials as well as interviews with Joplin’s friends, family, and bandmates, George-Warren begins with Joplin’s life, stretching back to her childhood in Port Arthur, Tex., where she would “publicly flaunt her individuality.” She was an outsider in high school and, in 1961, moved to Austin, where she attended the University of Texas and sang black music in a segregated folk music bar. Two years later she moved to San Francisco and immersed herself into the psychedelic rock scene, where she developed an addiction to heroin—on which she would overdose in 1970. George-Warren explores Joplin’s evolution as a singer, including her early incorporation of Otis Redding’s vocal techniques into her own performances, as well as her moments of impulsive brilliance, such as her first time singing “Bobby McGee”—live in Nashville in 1969, having just learned it—which she would record only a few days before her death. Indeed, as the author points out, a lonely Joplin spent the last year of her life “trying to find a way to reconcile her ambitions as a singer with her desire for some kind of loving attachment.” George-Warren beautifully tells a moving story of a woman whose life and music inspired a generation.
Twenty-five years before the present-day action of this un-put-downable psychological thriller from bestseller Jewell (Watching You), the bodies of Henry and Martina Lamb and an unknown man were found in the Lambs’ mansion in London’s exclusive Chelsea district. How did they die, and where were the Lambs’ children? Three entwined stories provide some answers. Homeless Lucy, a busking violinist, is sitting on a French beach with her son when she receives a message on her phone: “The baby is 25.” Lucy’s account of her voyage to London merges with that of Libby Jones. Libby, adopted when she was around a year old, is working for a kitchen design company in St. Albans when she receives the news that she has inherited the Lambs’ family home. Henry, the Lambs’ son, describes his childhood and the terrifying events that changed all their lives when the charismatic charlatan David Thomsen came to stay. Investigating her past, Libby gets much more than she bargained for. Distinct, well-developed characters, shifting points of view, and a disturbing narrative that pulses with life create an enthralling tale full of surprises.
Coretta Scott King Honoree Magoon’s stand-alone follow-up to How It Went Down catches up with the residents of the Underhill neighborhood after another incident: a white police officer shoots a 13-year-old black girl, Shae Tatum, in the back as she is heading home. Multiple points of view follow the killing’s aftermath through the eyes of Shae’s devastated friends and family, the daughter of the officer who shot the girl, the shooting’s sole witness, the residents left grieving in the aftermath, and the black man whose PR job burdens him with ensuring the police department comes through the incident unscathed. When the grand jury verdict comes back, the residents of Underhill pull together, emerging stronger and more determined than ever. Not for the faint of heart, this fearless and realistic account of a police shooting challenges readers to think about these all-too-common events from every perspective. The novel doesn’t shy away from the ugly and foundational role racism plays in American life, policing, and media coverage, nor does it neglect to examine black America’s strength in the face of adversity. Like How It Went Down, this gritty, emotional tale will leave readers gutted and compelled to stand against flawed systems. Ages 14–up.
Inspiration and perspiration prodigiously unite in this sweeping biography of one of America’s greatest inventors. Pulitzer-winning biographer Morris (Dutch: A Memoir of Ronald Reagan) tells Thomas Alva Edison’s story backward, opening with the creator of the first long-lasting light bulb, the phonograph, and other electromechanical marvels in lionized, imperious old age and presenting each decade of his life in reverse order, back to his boyhood spells of intense, isolated concentration. The ordering is something of a gimmick—the book reads nicely back to front—but along the way Morris vividly fleshes out Edison’s extraordinary intellect and industry as he devoured stacks of scientific treatises, incessantly brainstormed ideas with complex, elegant diagrams, and spent a lifetime of 18-hour days perfecting his designs in the laboratory, where he ate and slept on the floor. (His paternal absenteeism, Morris notes, got a tragicomic comeuppance from two resentful wastrel sons who exploited his name to perpetrate frauds.) Writing in amusing, literate prose that’s briskly paced despite a mountain of fascinating detail, Morris sets Edison’s achievements against a colorful portrait of his splendid eccentricity—mostly deaf, he was given to biting phonographs and pianos to divine their acoustics—whose visionary obsessions drove his businesses near to bankruptcy. The result is an engrossing study of a larger-than-life figure who embodied a heroic age of technology.
This haunting and vital final work from Ocampo (1903–1993), her only novel, is about a woman’s life flashing before her eyes when she’s stranded in the ocean. The nameless narrator has fallen off a ship, and as she floats, her mind takes over, presenting a flotilla of real and imagined memories about the people in her life in the form of a version of the book she promises herself she’ll finish . The book’s main thread is a woman, Irene, and a man, Leandro, with whom both Irene and the narrator get involved. But the fluid narrative also encompasses brief snapshots of a murder mystery, the narrator’s grandmother’s eye doctor (“In profile, his intent rabbit face was not as kind as it was head-on.”), her hairdresser, her ballerina neighbor, and the fruit vendor to whom her brother was attracted as a boy (“it was a fruit relationship, perhaps symbolizing sex”). The narrator’s potent, dynamic voice yields countless memorable lines and observations: “The only advantage of being a child is that time is doubly wide, like upholstery fabric”; “What is falling in love, anyway? Letting go of disgust, of fear, letting go of everything.” But the book’s true power is its depiction of the strength of the mind (“what I imagine becomes real, more real than reality”) and the necessity of storytelling, which for the narrator is literally staving off death: “I told stories to death so that it would spare my life.” Ocampo’s portrait of one woman’s interior life is forceful and full of hope.
Argentinian author Olguín makes his English-language debut with a scalding crime novel set in Buenos Aires, the first in a series featuring ambitious journalist Verónica Rosenthal, the 30-ish single daughter of a prominent judge. Verónica sees a potential story in the death of train driver Alfredo Carranza, who jumped off the roof of the building where he visited his psychologist. Alfredo was depressed “because he ran over four people in separate accidents.” When the police decline to pursue what appears to be a straightforward suicide case, Verónica investigates. She learns of the suffering of other train drivers with similar experiences, including Alfredo’s friend Lucio Valrossa, who’s in his own “universe of pain” from six deaths by trains he was driving. What accounts for this high fatality rate? Her search for answers takes her into the city’s poorest neighborhoods, where she discovers why slum boys are so willing to play chicken on railroad tracks. That Verónica has a torrid affair with the married Lucio complicates her quest. Olguín memorably explores the gulf between the haves and have-nots of Buenos Aires. Readers will hope to see more of the complex Verónica.
Sepetys (Salt to the Sea) again deftly explores a painful chapter in history, this time Franco’s Madrid. In 1957, 18-year-old Daniel, an aspiring photojournalist from Texas, visits Spain with his Spanish mother and American oil tycoon father. After arriving, he hones his lens on the culture, in some cases capturing forbidden images that earn the wrath of the menacing Guardia Civil, and he forms a relationship with his enigmatic hotel attendant, Ana, and her family, who are barely surviving, in stark contrast to Daniel’s family’s affluence. The tension heightens as a mystery involving orphans unfolds and Daniel and Ana’s magnetic romance progresses. The novel revolves around Ana’s brother, Rafa, a bullfighting promoter; her cousin Puri, who works at an orphanage; a lecherous American ambassador; and an experienced newspaper bureau chief, who mentors Daniel. Sepetys skillfully conveys Spain’s atmosphere under Franco—who limited women’s rights and squelched rebellion—with a pervasive feeling of fear and economic oppression. Compelling primary source materials, such as memos from U.S. presidents, oral history excerpts, and even hotel brochures, precede some chapters and contextualize the narrative. This gripping, often haunting historical novel offers a memorable portrait of fascist Spain. Ages 12–up.
Widower Samson Delaware, the hero of this outstanding tale of murder, obsession, and revenge from Wright (the Kat Stone series), is slipping into loneliness and isolation in tiny Cedarville, Tenn., where he works as an antiques restorer. Then the area’s only celebrity, Barbara Lace, dies. Lace returned to her hometown, where “she led a quiet life, playing the recluse with Oscar-worthy intensity” after more than 40 years in Hollywood as a B-list actress. Lace’s three-story Victorian house, a treasure trove of antiques, draws the attention of Delaware, who isn’t above bending the law if it means possessing something original. On a covert visit to the property, he hears gunfire. Racing upstairs, he finds Callista Weathers, Lace’s assistant, murdered. His spiraling investigation into the two women’s deaths leads him to think “did madness start like this? A sliver of obsession that turns into a ravine, tempting for its promise of abyss, of losing yourself.” The action builds to a thoroughly satisfying and exciting finale. Wright provides it all: clean prose, captivating characters, a gripping mystery, and a wry look at Hollywood glamour and decay.