This week, we highlight a stunning crime novel from Christopher Bollen; an impressionistic memoir of growing up as an undocumented immigrant by Marcelo Hernandez Castillo; and more.

A Beautiful Crime

Christopher Bollen. Harper, $27.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-06-285388-2

At the start of this stunning crime novel from Bollen (The Destroyers), 25-year-old Nicholas Brink leaves his lover and life in New York City to meet his new boyfriend, Clay Guillory, in Venice. There, the two young men set in motion a supposedly foolproof con to unload counterfeit silver on Richard Forsyth West, a charming, wealthy ex-pat American for whom Clay once worked and who’s immersed in Venice’s renovation. Clay inherited the silver from his last partner, the much older Freddy van der Haar. The sale will allow Clay to pay off debts incurred while caring for Freddy and allow the couple a fresh start. While the swindle fuels the plot, the story gains its strength from its look at gay romance and how individuals become a couple, as well as its view of shabby yet chic Venice, with its “fugitive magic” that lacks “the reality check of poverty and ugliness and ordinary struggles.” Clay and Nick grapple with their morals and greed while remaining appealing. Readers will easily root for them to get away with the con. Agent: Bill Clegg, Clegg Agency. (Jan.)

Children of the Land: A Memoir

Marcelo Hernandez Castillo. Harper, $26.99 (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-282559-9

Poet Castillo (Cenzontle) opens this impressionistic memoir of growing up as an undocumented immigrant with a gripping flashback to when Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents raided the then-teen’s family home in Marysville, Calif. “We never opened our door or windows again,” he writes, even though it was Castillo’s father, long-since deported, the agents sought. Moving forward to 2014, a provision of the “Dreamers” program allowed the 25-year-old Castillo and his wife, Rubi, to return to Tepechitlán, Mexico, for a bittersweet visit with his father, who was still hoping to return to the U.S. During the roller-coaster ride of the next two years, Castillo received his American visa, but his father failed to return north (“We were still trying to cross, still moving in maddening helplessness, a revolving door without an exit”), and his mother moved back to Tepechitlán to be with her husband. Throughout, Castillo examines other borders and boundaries in his life, including being bisexual and bilingual. Additionally, he writes of the difficulties reconciling his professional achievements as a creative writing teacher with his family’s struggles (“That was my new job, to read and write... and I didn’t think I deserved that kind of comfort”). Castillo writes with disturbing candor, depicting the all-too-common plight of undocumented immigrants to the U.S. (Jan.)

Scot Under the Covers

Suzanne Enoch. St. Martin’s, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-1-250-29640-5

The flawless second Regency era romance in Enoch’s Wild Wicked Highlanders series (after It’s Getting Scot in Here) hinges on a pair of enemies turned lovers who gamble with both their money and their hearts. Miranda Harris has always loathed games of chance, and her hatred only grows when her brother trades her hand in marriage to clear his gambling debt. Miranda would rather go to debtor’s prison than marry the odious Capt. Robert Vale, but before she resigns herself to a cell, she tries her hand at winning her freedom back, reluctantly seeking the help of handsome master gambler Aden MacTaggert. In order to keep parental funds flowing into his Highland estate, Aden must marry a London-bred woman. He agrees to teach Miranda about gambling ostensibly in exchange for lessons on London manners that will help him meet a match, but really because he’s charmed by witty, outspoken Miranda and hopes to turn her disdain for him into affection. High stakes, spirited characters, and off-the-charts chemistry keep the pages turning as Enoch balances humor, heat, and tension. This is Highland romance done right. (Feb.)

Wicked Bite

Jeaniene Frost. Avon, $7.99 mass market (384p) ISBN 978-0-06-269563-5

Frost’s utterly enjoyable second Night Rebel novel (after Shades of Wicked) delivers all the sizzle, sass, and suspense that make this paranormal world such a thrill. Vampire Law Guardian Veritas has a secret plan to destroy Dagon, a demon who has wrought centuries of harm on the world and killed Veritas’s husband, Ian. The dangerous mission could cost her her life, as well as her career, and Veritas is determined to go it alone. Ian, resurrected and then promptly abandoned by Veritas, can’t understand why his wife is avoiding him. With few memories of their life before Dagon’s attack, along with intriguing new powers he must learn to control, Ian dogs Veritas on her quest, desperately trying to get some answers from the woman he still adores. Amid fierce battles of wits, weapons, and magic, Frost highlights her characters’ courage, growing self-acceptance, and unshakable love for one another. Clever exposition will help new readers pick up the plot quickly, and longtime devotees of Frost’s rich paranormal world will delight in cameos by characters from past books across the Night Huntress universe . This pulse-quickening romance succeeds on every level. Agent: Nancy Yost, Nancy Yost Literary. (Jan.)

Almost American Girl

Robin Ha. Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (240p) ISBN 978-0-06-268509-4

In her YA debut, adult author Ha (Cook Korean!: A Comic Book with Recipes) creates a graphic novel memoir about a girl’s transition from Korea to America. Tomboyish Chuna, 14, and her single mother have always been each other’s closest relationship. But when her mother decides to remarry, Chuna is uprooted from her comfortable life in South Korea to the completely foreign environs of Huntsville, Ala. Faced with bullying from her classmates and stepfamily, Chuna’s only solace is in drawing comics. It is only when Chuna is once more uprooted to the far more ethnically diverse McLean, Va., that she begins to build relationships and an identity that blends her Korean and American identities. Ha’s vivid recollections impart a clear sense of place, whether they describe the Korea of her mother’s generation or 21st-century Korea, Alabama, and Virginia, depicting each location with distinctive details. The colors are muted, allowing the vibrancy of the storytelling to shine. Touching and subtly humorous, this emotive memoir is as much about the steadfast bond between a mother and daughter as it is about the challenges of being an immigrant in America. Ages 13–up. (Jan.)


Célia Houdart, trans. from the French by K.E. Gormley. Dalkey Archive, $14.95 trade paper (98p) ISBN 978-1-62897-327-3

Houdart’s gripping English-language debut builds into a sensitive, masterful study of the consequences of life’s minor turns. Marian, a judge in the city of Pisa, Italy, is presiding over the trial of Marco Ipranossian, accused of shooting and wounding the prefect of Pisa during a robbery. Marco, an Armenian mechanic whose mother was Italian, has been in jail for three years by the time the trial begins, held because of a note found in his pocket at the time of arrest that connected him to the shooting. But Marian, tipped off by a phone call, begins to suspect there’s more to Marco’s case; meanwhile, her husband Andrea, an academic, searches for work, and their teenage daughter Lea, a budding sculptor, travels to a studio in Carrara twice a week to “patiently coax a form” out of white marble. In brief chapters full of sharp, luminous, and original observations—the way old seats in a courtroom resemble “strange, melted crates,” or how a preoccupation lodged in one’s mind can “form an impenetrable barrier between her and her memories”—Houdart both fulfills and transcends the conventions of the crime novel. Memorable for the way it casts Marco’s fate as just one node in a network of friendships, relationships, coincidences, and echoes, this slim novel is a surprising pleasure. (Jan.)

The Circus

Jonas Karlsson, trans. from the Swedish by Neil Smith. Hogarth, $23 (192p) ISBN 978-1-101-90517-3

Karlsson (The Invoice) delivers a pithy and sagacious jaunt into an uncanny reality in his riveting third novel. In modern-day Sweden, the unnamed narrator, a placid, middle-aged loner, has moved on from the bullying and isolation of his adolescence to enjoy a reasonably tolerable existence. He meticulously organizes his record collection, works at a bakery, and occasionally hangs out with a few friends. But his life is disrupted while visiting a circus: his childhood friend, Magnus, volunteers to participate in a disappearing act and then actually vanishes. Unnerved and annoyed, the narrator attempts to solve the mystery of Magnus’s disappearance, only to discover that the parameters of his own existence are starting to blur after he starts receiving phone calls in which a mysterious person plays him music, asks him questions, and dredges up long-forgotten memories. He waits outside Magnus’s apartment, seems to see the magician from the circus around every corner, and entertains the irrational advice of his psuedotherapist friend Jallo. As the narrator’s confusion increases, he gradually begins to examine his friendship with Magnus and confronts the nagging suspicion that he is somehow responsible for Magnus’s fate. Karlsson’s knack for Kafkaesque surrealism and suspense is wonderfully paired with sardonic humor and a deeply sympathetic protagonist. This excellent, clever yarn is Karlsson’s best yet. Agent: Niclas Salomonsson, Salomonsson Agency. (Feb.)

A Beginning at the End

Mike Chen. Mira, $26.99 (400p) ISBN 978-0-7783-0934-5

This postapocalyptic slice-of-life novel from Chen (Here and Now and Then) delivers big emotions by keeping the focus small. Six years after a disease known as MGS killed 70% of the world’s population, humankind begins rebuilding. Among the survivors are three San Francisco acquaintances: Rob Donelly, a single parent whose daughter may be taken from him by the Family Stability Board; Moira Gorman, a pop star who was famous before the outbreak but now attempts to live under the radar; and Krista Deal, a consultant helping people to move on from the tragedy. Thrown together by circumstance, the three grow closer as they navigate the imposing new government in a grim, fragile future. As the government warns of another pandemic and panic spreads, Rob’s daughter runs away from home and the three friends set out to track her down. By foregrounding family, Chen manages to imbue his apocalypse with heart, hope, and humanity. Sci-fi fans will delight in this lovingly rendered tale. Agent: Eric Smith, PS Literary. (Jan.)

Hi Five: An IQ Novel

Joe Ide. Mulholland, $27 (352p) ISBN 978-0-316-50953-4

In Edgar-finalist Ide’s stellar fourth IQ novel (after 2018’s Wrecked), genius detective Isaiah Quintabe, who usually helps those in need in his impoverished East Long Beach, Calif., neighborhood, takes on a paying client. Angus Byrne, a vicious white supremacist who’s also a major arms dealer, wants Isaiah to investigate the shooting murder of an employee of his, Tyler Barnes. The obvious suspect is Byrne’s daughter, Christiana, who was found next to Barnes’s body in the store she owns in Newport Beach. Byrne tells Isaiah that unless Christiana is cleared, the detective’s significant other, violinist Stella McDaniels, will have her fingers broken. The stakes rise when Isaiah meets Christiana and learns that she has multiple personalities, each with separate recollections of the events leading to Barnes’s murder. The unexpected return, after two years, of Isaiah’s true love, former client Grace Monarova, complicates his task. Readers will root for Ide’s distinctive lead every step of the way. This innovative series continues to show promise for a long, high-quality run. Agent: Esther Newberg, ICM. (Jan.)

As Summer’s Mask Slips

Gordon B. White. Trepidatio, $16.95 trade paper (194p) ISBN 978-1-950305-20-9

White’s grisly, tantalizing debut story collection is a love letter to the horror genre. The powerful “Hairy Shirt Drag” tells the story of a gender-fluid witch who subverts and reclaims a violent rite of passage. In the anxiety-provoking title story, a grieving daughter explores the woods surrounding her father’s former home, only to realize that she is being followed. “The Buchanan Boys Ride Again,” arguably the best story on offer, is a surreptitiously funny, Stranger Things–esque tale of an overworked father and his surly teenage son donning head-to-toe rubber suits and wielding WD-40 to fight the creeping tendrils that live in their bathroom pipes. White conveys visceral terror through gorgeous, evocative prose (“Above her, the sky is striped in the violent bruise and citrus hues that soak early winter’s premature evenings.”), juxtaposing the macabre with the sublime for a truly pleasurable read. This exceptional debut is sure to earn White a significant fan base. (Feb.)