This week, we highlight new books from William Boyle, James McBride, and more.

Spirit Run: A 6,000-Mile Marathon Through North America’s Stolen Land

Noé Álvarez. Catapult, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-1-9482-2646-2

Yakima native Álvarez debuts with a spellbinding narrative of his coming to terms with his place in America today. Álvarez and his parents, undocumented Mexican immigrants, worked in a Washington apple-packing plant and lived in a neighborhood where the American Dream was replaced with what Álvaraz describes as a Raymond Carver–esque “world of loneliness, tarnished relationships, and violence.” While his parents immigrated to give Álvarez a better life, his father memorably tells him to “Never be like me. Like any of this. Get out while you can.” Escape presents itself in the form of an acceptance letter to Whitman College, but he soon feels out of place there as a first-generation Latino student. After dropping out, he flies to British Columbia to join the Peace and Dignity Journeys, a group of about a dozen Native American/First Nations runners who have embarked on an epic, 6,000-mile trek from Alaska to Panama. Together, they sprint through lands that were stolen from their ancestors, encountering mountain lions, stone-throwing motorcyclists, and more danger and turbulence along the four-month slog. In electric prose, Álvarez writes of returning home and forging a new connection with the land and its communities: “I grow excited at the thought of becoming reacquainted with my relatives that are the land and the trees.” This literary tour de force beautifully combines outdoor adventure with a sharp take on immigration. (Mar.)

Woman on the Edge

Samantha M. Bailey. Simon & Schuster Canada, $16 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-9821-4455-5

At the start of Bailey’s nail-biting debut, new mother Nicole Markham approaches social worker Morgan Kinkaid on a Chicago subway platform and urges Morgan to take her baby. Morgan, whose husband, Ryan, recently committed suicide after being convicted of embezzlement, doesn’t recognize the woman, yet Nicole calls her by name. Just after Nicole tosses the baby into Morgan’s arms, she jumps to her death in front of a moving train. Morgan, in her effort to understand what motivated Nicole to kill herself, discovers that a baby died under Nicole’s care when she was working as a nanny. The baby’s mother, blaming Nicole, sent her threatening letters, even though the coroner ruled it was a case of sudden infant death syndrome. Meanwhile, Det. Karina Martinez, who earlier investigated Ryan’s suicide and always believed Morgan conspired in Ryan’s embezzlement, investigates Nicole’s death; Karina suspects Morgan of pushing Nicole onto the tracks because Morgan was desperate for a child of her own. The tension becomes unrelenting as Morgan unravels Nicole’s story. Fans of psychological suspense are in for a treat. Agent: Jenny Bent, Bent Agency. (Mar.)

City of Margins

William Boyle. Pegasus Crime, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-1-64313-318-8

Set in South Brooklyn in the early 1990s, this outstanding novel from Boyle (A Friend Is a Gift You Give Yourself) focuses on a group of people whose lives seem fated to collide with often tragic consequences. Donnie Parascandolo, a disgraced ex-cop, now works as an enforcer for a local mobster, Big Time Tommy Ficalora. Widow Rosemarie Baldini struggles to repay a gambling debt that her late husband owed to Ficalora. Rosemarie’s son, Mikey, has dropped out of college and is back in the neighborhood, possibly destined for the kind of strong arm work that got his father murdered. A disturbing note leads Mikey to Donna Rotante, Donnie’s ex-wife, who lives a quiet monastic life with her turntable and records following the suicide of her teenage son. Revenge and retribution follow. Battered by loss and unrealized dreams, Boyle’s characters are vividly drawn and painfully real. Fans of literary crime novelists such as George Pelecanos and Richard Price will be highly rewarded. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel Weber Assoc. (Mar.)

These Ghosts Are Family

Maisy Card. Simon & Schuster, $24 (288p) ISBN 978-1-9821-1743-6

Card’s profound, assured debut explores Jamaican colonial history to uncover a family’s painful past. Spanning two centuries and eight generations of the Paisley family, the narrative begins in 2005 with Stanford Solomon, a Jamaican immigrant to the United States who was once known as Abel Paisley before faking his own death 35 years earlier, assuming his dead friend’s identity, and estranging himself from his family. After Stanford finally reaches out to his daughter, Irene, a 37-year-old home health aide in New York City, to confess that he’s been alive all this time, her late mother, Vera, a ghost who spent decades without knowing what happened to her husband, notes that “death is just one long therapy session.” Meanwhile, Stanford’s daughter by a second marriage, Estelle Solomon, struggles with heroin addiction and grief that she cannot support her 18-year-old daughter. As Card traces the family’s roots back through Jamaica’s history under British rule and enslavement, literal and figurative ghosts animate the novel, and a wrenching description of the violent 1831 Christmas Rebellion and its aftermath reveals that Stanford was not the first of the Paisleys to rewrite the history of their lineage. Through a fluid blend of patois and erudite descriptions of Jamaica, Card offers a kaleidoscopic portrait of a troubled but resilient family whose struggles are inscribed by the island they once called home. This masterful chronicle haunts like the work of Marlon James and hits just as hard. Agent: Monica Odom, Liza Dawson Associates. (Mar.)

Glass Town: The Imaginary World of the Brontës

Isabel Greenberg. Abrams ComicArts, $24.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-4197-3268-3

Greenberg (The One Hundred Nights of Hero) whimsically blends the real lives of the famous Brontë siblings—Charlotte, Emily, Anne, and their brother Branwell—with the fictional world they created as children in the 1840s. Growing up with only books and each other for company, the “four forlorn little figures dressed in black” invent an imaginary kingdom and populate it with characters. For Charlotte, her tours of the imaginary Glass Town become more real than her exterior life, and its envoys begin to visit her in turn. Channeling The Chronicles of Narnia and Heavenly Creatures, Greenberg explores the intoxicating power of fiction, developing the Brontës’ juvenile literary game—about which little is known in reality—into a place that feels real while retaining the illogic of a child’s private fantasies. Greenberg’s deliberately juvenile but catchy art serves the material well, creating a mood reminiscent of Henry Darger and also recalling the caricatures of Kate Beaton. In alternating color schemes, the bold crayon colors of Glass Town contrast with the drab sepias and grey-blues of the Brontës’ England. Wisely focusing on imagination and atmosphere over biographical facts, this lyrical, endlessly inventive book will appeal equally to lovers of history, literature, and metatextual fantasy. Agent: Seth Fishman, The Gernert Company. (Mar.)


Hilary Leichter. Coffee House/Emily, $16.95 trade paper (200p) ISBN 978-1-56689-566-8

Leichter’s funny, absurdist debut cleverly explores a capitalist society taken to a dreamlike extreme. The narrator is a temporary—an employee of the world, whose temp agency can place people in different jobs, from the banal (basic office work) to the incredibly unlikely (subbing in for a barnacle by clinging to a rock). She has 18 unnamed boyfriends, who bond in her apartment while she is gone. Her boss, a woman named Farren, places the lead on a pirate ship, where she is asked to kill a hostage. She rebels, only to end up working as an assistant to an assassin. Though the jobs are temporary, the narrator accumulates objects—such as stolen boots, and a necklace containing the ashes of the Chairman of the Board, whose ghost is a supporting character. A particularly strong section comes in the middle of the book, when the narrator remembers her first assignment: her mother leaves her to wander through an empty house and close its doors over and over again. Though consistently zany, there are moments of profundity: always coming back to her many boyfriends and the desire to realize “the steadiness” (a tongue-in-cheek aspiration to find a fulfilling, lifelong career), the heroine finally finds peace through her conversations with the Chairman. Leichter’s cutting, hilarious critique of the American dream will appeal to fans of Italo Calvino. (Mar.)

Deacon King Kong

James McBride. Riverhead, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1672-3

McBride (The Good Lord Bird) delivers a sharply compassionate shaggy dog tale of a heavy drinking Baptist deacon who shoots a drug dealer and becomes a “walking dead man.” In the autumn of 1969, handyman and occasional baseball coach Deacon Cuffy Lambkin, known to his friends as “Sportcoat” because of his colorful wardrobe or as “Deacon King Kong” on account of his equal affection for a moonshine with that name, inexplicably shoots off the ear of Deems Clemens, Sportcoat’s former baseball protégé. This sets in motion a hunt for Sportcoat by Deems’s employers that draws in Tommy “Elephant” Elefante, a sweetly melancholy Italian mover of “hot goods” whose grip on the neighborhood is slipping, and scrupulous police officer “Potts” Mullen, who is on the brink of retirement. As Deems’s crew ineffectually try to murder Sportcoat, Elephant follows clues left by his dead father to find a hidden treasure, and Potts tries to keep the neighborhood safe while falling for the wife of a preacher, McBride unravels the mystery of Sportcoat’s inexplicable ire against Deems. With a Dickensian wealth of quirky characters, a sardonic but humane sense of humor reminiscent of Mark Twain, and cartoonish action scenes straight out of Pynchon, McBride creates a lived-in world where everybody knows everybody’s business. This generous, achingly funny novel will delight and move readers. (Mar.)

For the Ride

Alice Notley. Penguin, $20 trade paper (144p) ISBN 978-0-14313-457-2

Notley (Certain Magical Acts) has long been synonymous with the second generation of the New York school, feminist poetics, political dissidence, and, in the last several decades, an epic mode that gives her jittery, particular, and inventive poems a novelistic sweep. This visionary book is a postapocalyptic adventure into an unspecified future, one that begins “in the l’Orangerie in Paris with Monet’s Water Lillies... a room of walls which come alive with images and words... like a mind?” but quickly accelerates into a trans-dimensional and gender-defying odyssey. One (her protagonist) and ones (One’s interlocutors) board an ark made of language to save words from the threat of extinction: “One’s not in time, what’s One in? Chaos, beautiful chaos—,” One observes. What follows is a series of 28 chapterlike poems embedded with smaller poems, which gives Notley boundless opportunities to comment on society (“Some ones are crying... opportune for some leaderly bullshit”) and to hopscotch through thoughtlike threads of language. This is a challenging, visionary work. (Mar.)

Blame the Dead

Ed Ruggero. Forge, $27.99 (336p) ISBN 978-1-250-31274-7

At the start of this exceptional WWII mystery and series launch from Ruggero (The Academy), Lt. Eddie Harkins, an MP who was once a Philadelphia beat cop, comes across a murder scene near Palermo, Sicily. In the confusion of a German air raid at dawn that August 1943 morning, someone shot Capt. Meyers Stephenson, a surgeon, in the back of the head at close range. Harkins, who gets assigned to oversee the murder investigation, soon learns that Stephenson had plenty of enemies in the army hospital where he’d been working, including members of the nursing staff whom he routinely sexually harassed. Stephenson was also suspected of killing a nurse who supposedly choked to death on her own vomit after getting drunk with him. Harkins’s determination to find justice for the dead man and expose the horrific treatment of the nurses places him at odds with the hospital’s commander. Ruggero plays fair with his readers and makes the carrying out of a homicide inquiry in wartime both exciting and plausible. Fans of James Benn and Owen Parry will be pleased. Agent: Matt Bialer, Sanford J. Greenburger Assoc. (Mar.)

The Two Lives of Lydia Bird

Josie Silver. Ballantine, $26 (384p) ISBN 978-0-593-13523-5

Silver’s latest (after One Day in December) is a heartbreaking, poignant tale of a woman suffused in a prescription drug-fueled dream state after a great loss. After Lydia Bird’s fiancé, Freddie Hunter, is killed in a car accident on her birthday, she gets hooked on sleeping pills and retreats into a dreamworld where nothing has changed. Lydia’s sister Elle and her mother push her to learn how to build a life without the man she’d been with since she was a teenager and encourage her to redefine her relationship with her late fiancé’s best friend, Jonah, who survived the crash. But her dreams continue, aided by the pills, and in them she and Freddie get married, go on their honeymoon, and celebrate Lydia’s birthday. After the birth of Elle’s daughter, Lydia rises out of her funk and spontaneously flies to Croatia, where she considers a job offer, video chats with Jonah, and tries to imagine a future. Through lush prose, expert plotting, and richly imagined characters, Silver offers an achingly real portrait of grief transposed with the character’s intoxicating parallel universe. This will stay with readers long after the final page is turned. Agent: Jemima Forrester, David Higham Assoc. (Mar.)

Eight Perfect Murders

Peter Swanson. Morrow, $26.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-06-283820-9

In 2004, Malcolm Kershaw, the narrator of this outstanding fair-play crime novel from Swanson (Before She Knew Him), began working at Boston’s Old Devils Bookstore, where he posted a list on the store’s blog of eight mysteries in which “the murderer comes closest to realizing that platonic ideal of a perfect murder.” Years later, FBI agent Gwen Mulvey tells him she’s investigating multiple killings that she believes may have been influenced by his blog post. For example, Mulvey is probing the deaths of three people apparently connected only by having a name related to birds, a setup similar to Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, one of the books on the list. Mulvey is also looking into a murder that mirrors the circumstances of James M. Cain’s Double Indemnity and hopes that Kershaw can give her a lead as to who might be using his list for a campaign of bloodshed. The stakes rise when Kershaw admits he knew one of the victims but chose not to share that with Mulvey. Swanson will keep most readers guessing until the end. Classic whodunit fans will be in heaven. Agent: Nat Sobel, Sobel & Weber. (Mar.)

Barn 8

Deb Olin Unferth. Graywolf, $16 trade paper (296p) ISBN 978-1-64445-015-4

Unferth’s fresh heist caper (after her collection Wait Till You See Me Dance) features a most unusual quarry: 900,000 hens. After a disappointing search for her absent father maroons rebellious teenager Janey in rural Iowa, she takes a job as an auditor for the United Egg Producers and finds a kindred spirit in the disillusioned head auditor, Cleveland Smith, who can no longer consent to the grim conditions in which chickens are bred and slaughtered. Conceiving a madcap brand of ecoterrorism, the two women embark on a mission to liberate the birds. They recruit a wide array of conspirators, including the embittered animal inspector, Dill; a vengeful farmer’s daughter, Annabelle; lovelorn egg salesman Jonathan Jarman Jr.; and Cleveland’s faithful pet hen, Bwwaauk. After weeks of preparation, the gang are on the verge of realizing their fowl-focused emancipation when a botched effort causes more damage to the farm than they’d bargained for. In this outrageous piece of rural noir and pitch-perfect characterization, Unferth recalls Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang with a dose of vegan-minded quirk. This entertaining, satisfying genre turn shows off Unferth’s range, and readers will be delighted by the characters’ earnest crusade. (Mar.)