This week, we highlight new books from Colum McCann, Ross Douthat, and more.

These Fevered Days: Ten Pivotal Moments in the Making of Emily Dickinson

Martha Ackmann. Norton, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-393-60930-1

Journalist Ackmann (Curveball), expanding on her Mount Holyoke seminar on Emily Dickinson, recounts 10 days in the poet’s life in this excellent literary study. Some of the days covered initially seem trivial—as when, on Aug. 3, 1845, 14-year-old Dickinson wrote a letter to her school friend Abiah—but Ackmann excels at revealing her subject’s passion and vibrant imagination even in innocuous moments. Others are more distinctly significant, such as Dickinson’s first meeting with longtime correspondent Thomas Wentworth Higginson on Aug. 16, 1870. (Fortunately, Higginson wrote down every detail he remembered, including Dickinson commenting “if I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry.”) Ackmann freely draws from historical records, poems, and letters, sampling some of Dickinson’s best bon mots, as when, complaining about her chores, she implores, “God keep me from what they call households.” Though far from comprehensive, Ackmann’s account gets to the core of her subject with remarkable clarity. Though the book’s Dickinson can be odd, ethereal, and contradictory, other qualities emerge as well—her humor, charm, and unwavering confidence in her own work. The result is a remarkably refreshing account of one of America’s finest poets. (Feb.)

Gone at Midnight: The Mysterious Death of Elisa Lam

Jake Anderson. Citadel, $26 (352p) ISBN 978-0-8065-4005-4

Investigative journalist Anderson looks into the case of 21-year-old Elisa Lam, a student diagnosed as bipolar who vanished from L.A.’s seedy Cecil Hotel one day in 2013, in this outstanding debut. As days went by, residents of the hotel began to complain about the water quality and pressure. Finally, a maintenance worker went to the roof to check the hotel’s cisterns, only to find Lam’s naked, dead body floating in one of them. The coroner ruled her death an accident by drowning with bipolar disorder a contributing factor. But Anderson found too many inconsistencies in the case, and the internet went wild with conspiracy theories. Lam was no stranger to the blogging world, having a Tumblr account where she documented her mental health problems and where her scheduled updates appeared for months after her death. That Anderson’s obsession with the case led him to examine his own mental health issues adds depth. He ponders whether it was suicide or a psychotic breakdown—or something more sinister that killed Lam. Anderson also vividly details the dark delusions he suffered while making a documentary at the Cecil Hotel. What really happened to Lam may never be known, but true crime buffs won’t want to miss this gripping search for the truth. (Mar.)

Red Hood

Elana K. Arnold. HarperCollins/Balzer + Bray, $17.99 (368p) ISBN 978-0-06-274235-3

"There isn’t always a wolf... but there is always the threat of one.” Arnold artfully spins a dark, magic-tinged “Little Red Riding Hood” retelling in which a young woman discovers the power that is her birthright. Bisou Martel, 16, has lived with her grandmother, Mémé, since her mother’s brutal murder when Bisou was only four. Attacked in the forest by a vicious wolf after the homecoming dance—the night she first gets her period—Bisou must slay her pursuer or succumb to its murderous intent. The next day, a boy who behaved forcefully with Bisou at the dance is found naked in the woods, dead from the same wounds as the wolf that Bisou killed. When a classmate, Keisha, is attacked by another wolf, and another faces bullying by a likely incel, Bisou’s family’s past and her grandmother’s closely guarded secrets come to the fore. Arnold (Damsel) effectively employs a second-person narrative (“You were ready—lipstick on, hairpins in”) that evokes a sense of immediacy, blurring the gap between reader and character. Though Arnold never shies from discomfort, depictions of positive male-female relationships and sexual interactions—which clearly illustrate healthy, joyful, consensual experiences— juxtapose the trauma and pain of nonconsensual acts. At once a sharp critique of male entitlement and a celebration of sisterhood and feminine power, this story will linger with readers long after the final page. Ages 14–up. (Feb.)

The Last Smile in Sunder City

Luke Arnold. Orbit, $15.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-316-45582-4

Actor Arnold, best-known for his role in the TV series Black Sails, invites readers into a richly imagined world in this standout debut. In the wake of a cataclysmic war, mystical beings have been stripped of their powers and their magical technologies frozen, leading to mass bankruptcy among gremlins, goblins, elves, and others, and lingering tensions between humans and nonhumans. Human Fetch Phillips, self-described “Man for Hire,” lives in Sunder City, a metropolis that began as “one giant factory,” before an enlightened dwarf governor allied with a human aristocrat to raise taxes and introduce arts and culture into the community. When Edmund Rye, a centuries-old vampire and one of the teachers at an academy for magical children, disappears, the academy’s principal hires Phillips to find him. Phillips hits the mean streets of Sunder City in search of Rye only to realize that he’s on the trail of something far more complicated. Winningly combining the grit of Chinatown with the quirky charm of Harry Potter, this series opener is sure to have readers coming back for more. (Mar.)


Michael Christie. Hogarth, $28 (528p) ISBN 978-1-984822-00-0

Christie’s rugged, riveting novel (after If I Fall, If I Die) entwines a family’s rising and falling fortunes with Canada’s dwindling old-growth forests. In a frightening, nearly treeless 2038, 33-year-old dendrologist Jacinda “Jake” Greenwood guides tourists on a British Columbia island where a rare forest withstood the global environmental disaster and ensuing economic collapse known as the Great Withering. While Jake worries about spots appearing on two fir trees, her ex-fiancé, Silas, now a lawyer, informs her she could inherit a large sum from the Greenwood estate. Orphaned at age eight, Jake knows little about her family, and the more she learns through reading her grandmother’s journal, the less she wants the money. Her father, Liam, was a carpenter and gifted woodworker. Liam’s mother, Willow, was the ecoterrorist daughter of lumber tycoon Harris Greenwood. Willow, though, was not Harris’s biological daughter. Abandoned as a baby, she was rescued by Harris’s brother Everett and entrusted to Harris for safekeeping. Nor were Harris and Everett biological brothers; they were survivors of a train wreck who were raised together by a lumberjack’s widow and given the name Greenwood. Christie recounts each generation’s story through concentric flashbacks in which families, like forests, experience both devastation and renewal, anchored in Jake’s recognition that she’d rather inherit the earth than a fortune derived from its destruction. This superb family saga will satisfy fans of Richard Powers’s The Overstory while offering a convincing vision of potential ecological destruction. (Feb.)

The Decadent Society: How We Became the Victims of Our Own Success

Ross Douthat. Avid Reader, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8524-0

A comfortable but unoriginal, tired, and frustrated age has arrived, argues this scintillating diagnosis of social dysfunctions. New York Times columnist Douthat (To Change the Church) surveys a contemporary world where technological advance has subsided into the engineering of trivial digital apps; sclerotic, gridlocked governments dither; birth rates have fallen below replacement rate; young men lose themselves in video games and porn rather than start families or change history; the arts endlessly rehash boomer cultural touchstones and superhero franchises; and a managerial meritocracy entrenches itself in a soft authoritarianism of health and safety, while radicals playact at resurrecting communism and fascism in defanged social media tantrums and feckless street theater. Douthat’s elegy on the death of progress is unsparing and often pessimistic, but never alarmist; decadent modernity may muddle along without apocalyptic collapse, he contends, or perk up again with a religious revival or renewed space exploration. His analysis is full of shrewd insights couched in elegant, biting prose. (American political partisanship, he writes, is “an empty traditionalism championed by a heathen reality-television opportunist, set against a thin cosmopolitanism that’s really just the extremely Western ideology of liberal Protestantism plus ethnic food.”) The result is a trenchant and stimulating take on latter-day discontents. Agent: Rafe Sagalyn, ICM/Sagalyn. (Feb.)


Colum McCann. Random House, $28 (480p) ISBN 978-1-4000-6960-6

National Book Award–winner McCann (Let the Great World Spin) bases this masterful novel on the lives of two real men working together toward Middle Eastern peace. Rami Elhanan, 67 on the single day of 2016 on which the main narrative takes place, is a graphic designer and Israeli military veteran. In September 1997, his 13-year-old daughter, Smadar, was killed in a Jerusalem suicide bombing. His need for revenge fades when he joins the Parents’ Circle, whose members, of many nationalities and religions, have all lost a child in the Israel/Palestine conflict. Nineteen years younger than Elhanan, Palestinian Bassam Aramin is jailed in 1985, at 17, for resisting the Israeli occupiers in Hebron, where he’s raised. During his imprisonment, writings by Gandhi, among others, and friendship with one of the Israeli guards convince him of the power of nonviolence. Released after seven years, he helps found Combatants for Peace, which brings Palestinian and Israeli fighters—among them Elhanan’s son, who introduces the two men—together for dialogue. The fatal 2005 shooting of Bassam’s 10-year-old daughter, Abir, by an Israeli border guard doesn’t shake his belief that Israelis and Palestinians share “an equity of pain”; he and Elhanan begin meeting daily, using their daughters’ stories to become international advocates for peace. The book’s title is a reference to a polygon with a countable but infinite number of sides, and McCann evokes the experience of its protagonists and their region through 1,001 brief numbered segments that incorporate sequences in the men’s own voices and interconnect topics including bullet manufacturing, Jorge Luis Borges, and birds. Balancing its dazzling intellectual breadth with moments of searing intimacy, this is a transformative vision of a historic conflict and a triumph of the novelist’s art. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, Wylie Agency. (Feb.)

Yellow Bird: Oil, Murder, and a Woman’s Search for Justice in Indian Country

Sierra Crane Murdoch. Random House, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-399-58915-7

Investigative reporter Murdoch debuts with a powerful portrayal of an unusual sleuth whose dogged pursuit of a missing person inquiry led to justice. Lissa Yellow Bird received a degree in criminal justice from the University of North Dakota, “though rather than working for the police, she spent much of her adult life evading them.” Despite that checkered background and a history of substance abuse, Lissa became an advocate in tribal court and a go-to resource when people went missing on Native American lands. After Kristopher Clarke, who worked for a trucking company based on the Fort Berthold Indian Reservation, vanished in 2012, Lissa became interested in the mystery. Her investigations contributed to the arrest and conviction, in 2016, of James Henrikson, who had feared that Clarke was going to start his own trucking firm and steal Henrikson’s employees. Murdoch deepens her narrative with a searing look at the deficiencies of law and order on Native American land, corruption, and the abrogation of responsibility by the federal government. Admirers of David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon will be drawn to this complex crime story with similar themes and settings. Agent: Kent Wolf, Neon Literary. (Feb.)


Russ Thomas. Putnam, $26 (368p) ISBN 978-0-525-54202-5

When the remains of Gerald Cartwright, a wealthy, reviled businessman in Sheffield, England, are found bricked up in a wall of the Old Vicarage, Cartwright’s home until his disappearance six years earlier, ambitious Det. Sgt. Adam Tyler, the principal investigator in Thomas’s excellent debut, is grateful to be assigned the high-profile cold case. The night of the discovery, Tyler is picked up in a gay bar by an attractive young man, Oscar, who happens to be Cartwright’s son and only heir. Meanwhile, arson fires are set around Sheffield, disturbing residents and confounding police. They spark memories for Lilly and her companion, Edna, who were volunteer firewatchers in London during WWII. The pair played a big hand in raising Oscar, who soon becomes the lead suspect in his father’s death, after his mother vanished when he was a child. Distinctive characters include feisty Det. Constable Amina Rabbani and fire captain Paul Enfield, who are often at odds with each other. Red herrings and uncovered family secrets abound. This stunning police procedural marks Thomas as an author to watch. Agent: Sarah Hornsley, Bent Agency. (Feb.)

The Unexpected Spy: From the CIA to the FBI, My Secret Life Taking Down Some of the World’s Most Notorious Terrorists

Tracy Walder, with Jessica Anya Blau. St. Martin’s, $27.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-250-23098-0

Walder spins a thrilling tale in her debut memoir of her life in the CIA and FBI. As a sorority student at the University of Southern California in 2000, Walder visited a job fair and was surprised to find herself interested in a career with the CIA, where she soon found work. Shortly after 9/11, Walder became staff operations officer in the Weapons of Mass Destruction office of the CIA’s al-Qaeda detail and later worked on unraveling a terrorist network reaching from Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Russia to France and the U.S. Walder tells her story in rapid prose and, adding to the tension, she includes blacked out blocks of text that had been redacted by the CIA during its vetting of her book. Wanting more life stability, Walder joined the FBI in 2004, which didn’t require as much travel but where she did encounter sexism. While there, she worked on a massive counterintelligence case involving Chi Mak, a Chinese spy who is still imprisoned for passing U.S. military secrets to China. She left a year and half after joining, and became a teacher at an all-girls high school in Dallas. Walder’s fast-paced and intense narrative opens a window into life in two of America’s major intelligence agencies. (Feb.)

Forbidden Promises

Synithia Williams. HQN, $7.99 mass market (352p) ISBN 978-1-335-01324-8

Williams (His Pick for Passion) makes waves with this exceptional tale of forbidden love, the first in the Robidoux Family series. Four years away have done nothing to diminish India Robidoux’s secret feelings for her sister Elaina’s ex-husband, Travis Strickland, whom she’s known since she was a teenager and with whom she once shared one perfect kiss. Travis always knew he’d married the wrong sister, but his teenage affair with Elaina left her pregnant, and he did what he thought was right. Now Travis is a high-powered lawyer helping out with his best friend, and India’s brother, Byron’s Senate race. When Byron calls India home to work for his campaign, the close proximity to Travis tests her self-control and familial loyalty. Travis doesn’t want to cause a rift between India and her family, so he attempts to conceal his feelings, but the more time they spend together, the more their desire bubbles to the surface. With skillful characterization and sizzling chemistry, Williams succeeds at capturing the allure of this taboo connection. Even skeptical readers will be hard-pressed not to root for India and Travis. Agent: Tricia Skinner, Fuse Literary. (Feb.)