This week, we highlight new books from Emily St. John Mandel, Susan Nordin Vinocour, and Nghi Vo.

The Glass Hotel

Emily St. John Mandel. Knopf, $26.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-52114-3

Mandel’s wonderful novel (after Station Eleven) follows a brother and sister as they navigate heartache, loneliness, wealth, corruption, drugs, ghosts, and guilt. Settings include British Columbia’s coastal wilderness, New York City’s fashionable neighborhoods and corporate headquarters, a container ship in international waters, and a South Carolina prison. In 1994, 18-year-old drug-using dropout Paul Smith visits his 13-year-old half-sister, Vincent, in Vancouver. Vincent has just lost her mother and acquired her first video camera. Five years later, in the wilderness north of Vancouver, Vincent tends bar at a luxury hotel where Paul works as the night houseman. Paul leaves after writing on a window in acid marker a message even he doesn’t understand. Vincent relocates to the East Coast and what Mandel calls the kingdom of money to play trophy wife for investor Jonathan Alkaitis. When Jonathan’s Ponzi scheme collapses, he goes to prison, where his victims’ ghosts visit him. Finished with Jonathan and the affluent lifestyle and ignored by her best friend, Vincent takes a job as assistant cook on a container ship. Paul, meanwhile, has set Vincent’s old videos to music. The videos have helped Paul, despite a lifelong drug problem, tap into his creative gifts. Using flashbacks, flash-forwards, alternating points-of-view, and alternate realities, Mandel shows the siblings moving in and out of each other’s lives, different worlds, and versions of themselves, sometimes closer, sometimes further apart, like a double helix, never quite linking. This ingenious, enthralling novel probes the tenuous yet unbreakable bonds between people and the lasting effects of momentary carelessness. 200,000-copy announced first printing. Agent: Katherine Fausset, Curtis Brown, Ltd. (Mar.)

Running Out of Road

Daniel Friedman. Minotaur, $26.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-05848-5

Buck Schatz makes a welcome return in Edgar finalist Friedman’s thoughtful third mystery featuring the retired Jewish cop (after 2014’s Don’t Ever Look Back). In 2011, Carlos Watkins, the producer of a true crime podcast, reopens one of Buck’s old cases. Chester March is finally about to be executed for killing his missing wife after decades on death row in Tennessee. Flash back to 1955 when Schatz was a junior detective with the Memphis PD. His first contact with March, an affluent white man, makes Schatz instantly suspicious, and his conviction that March is a killer intensifies after he learns of the 1953 murder of a black prostitute, who was seen by another prostitute getting into March’s car. Despite the evidence Buck amasses, the district attorney refuses to proceed on the basis of “testimony of a negro whore and a Jew detective.” Friedman gradually reveals how March eventually ended up facing lethal injection. Segments from Watkins’s show nicely explore whether the death penalty is ever appropriate. John Grisham fans looking for more nuance and deeper characterizations will be rewarded. Agent: Victoria Skurnick, Levine Greenberg Rostan Literary. (Mar.)

The City We Became

N.K. Jemisin. Orbit, $28 (448p) ISBN 978-0-316-50984-8

The staggering contemporary fantasy that launches three-time Hugo Award-winner Jemisin’s new trilogy (following the Broken Earth series) leads readers into the beating heart of New York City for a stunning tale of a world out of balance. After hundreds of years of gestation, New York City is awakening to sentience, but “postpartum complications” threaten to destroy it. An alien, amorphous force, personified by the Woman in White, launches an attack on New York. Five people—one for each of the city’s five boroughs—are called to become avatars dedicated to protecting the city. If they can combine their powers, they’ll be able to awaken the avatar of the city as a whole and defeat the Woman in White, but first they’ll have to find each other. While the Woman in White works to undermine them, the five avatars, whose personalities delightfully mirror the character of their respective boroughs (the Bronx is “creative with an attitude,” Manhattan is “smart, charming, well-dressed, and cold enough to strangle you in an alley if we still had alleys”), learn the extent of their new powers. Jemisin’s earthy, vibrant New York is mirrored in her dynamic, multicultural cast. Blending the concept of the multiverse with New York City arcana, this novel works as both a wry adventure and an incisive look at a changing city. Readers will be thrilled. Agent: Lucienne Diver, the Knight Agency. (Mar.)

Soul Liberty: The Evolution of Black Religious Politics in Postemancipation Virginia

Nicole Myers Turner. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (232p) ISBN 978-1-4696-5522-2

Turner, assistant professor of religious studies at Yale University, debuts with a masterful exploration of post-Emancipation black religious life in Virginia. She argues that, post-Emancipation, African-Americans were interested in their political and bodily liberty and also their “soul liberty”—the freedom to worship and govern their places of worship by their community standards. As explained by Turner, there is a rich nexus of interaction between these two spheres; freedom of worship corresponded directly to political and social liberties. Turner explores how religious organizing then allowed for black involvement in electoral politics, as well as black community-building in postbellum Virginia. After a broad survey of post-Emancipation “religious liberty,” Turner narrows her focus to independent black church conventions and congregations. In the final chapters she turns to broader questions of theological education, gender, and political engagement, including an illuminating analysis of the dynamics that led to the uniting of the Zion Union Apostolic Church with the Episcopal Church in 1878. Turner handles her immense amount of research masterfully, and many academic readers will want to take note of the two open-access digital versions of the text, which provide enhanced features such as data sets and maps. This is a must-read for those interested in the evolution of black religious life in America. (Mar.)

The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Nghi Vo., $11.99 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-1-2507-5030-3

Vo’s adventurous debut combines myth and fable with political intrigue to build a stunning feminist fantasy set in a land inspired by imperial China. Chih, a traveling cleric, and their bird, Almost Brilliant, meet Rabbit, an elderly woman who spent her life as a handmaiden, and collect her many stories. Rabbit was sold to the court when she was five years old because her parents could not pay their full taxes. Once installed there, Rabbit quickly rose in the ranks of servants. The exiled Empress In-Yo from the North arrived at court later intending to take part in a political marriage and produce an heir. Both outsiders, In-Yo and Rabbit form a fast bond that runs deep, defying simple categorization. As Rabbit, who has remained loyal to the empress, reveals a tale of conspiracies and rebellion, Chih must decide what they will do with these spilled imperial secrets. The subtlety and nuance of Vo’s evocative storytelling lend the novella an epic, timeless feel. Equal parts love and rage, this masterfully told story is sure to impress. Agent: Diana Fox, Fox Literary. (Mar.)

Like Flies from Afar

K. Ferrari, trans. from the Spanish by Adrian Nathan West. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-374-23994-7

Argentinian author Ferrari, who works as a janitor at a Buenos Aires metro station, makes his English-language debut with an enthralling hard-boiled thriller centering on 24 hours in the life of Argentinian oligarch Luis Machi. After a cocaine-fueled tryst, Machi blows a tire on the drive home. He suspects the three spikes in his tire to be a deliberate act by someone familiar with his routine. On opening the trunk to get out the spare, Machi discovers an unidentifiable dead body handcuffed, with a single gunshot wound to the head. The likely murder weapon, the Glock he keeps in his glove compartment, is missing one bullet. Ferrari tightly crafts an intense, noir narrative crosscutting between Machi’s struggle to dispose of the body and evidence without authorities noticing and vignettes featuring the considerable number of enemies, including bitter employees and jilted family members, who would go to this extreme for retribution. Those looking for a finely honed, pitch-black crime novel will be rewarded. With any luck, the author will soon be able to give up his day job. (Mar.)

Nobody’s Child: A Tragedy, a Trial, and a History of the Insanity Defense

Susan Nordin Vinocour. Norton, $28.95 (336p) ISBN 978-0-393-65192-8

As Vinocour, a clinical and forensic psychologist, writes in this moving, well-researched account of the insanity defense, she really didn’t want to get involved in the case of the woman she calls Dorothy Dunn, a poor black woman with mental health issues accused of killing her three-year-old grandson, but she agreed to do a psych evaluation. Vinocour, herself a victim of child abuse, was skeptical at first that Dunn wasn’t guilty. But through the course of the evaluation, she came to realize Dunn wasn’t competent to stand trial for second-degree murder because she was not coherent; despite Vinocour’s testimony, the jury disagreed, and the woman was sentenced to 25 years to life. Vinocour explains that the insanity defense is rarely used because it’s too difficult to explain to a jury. She also examines cases showing the history of the plea, including that of the man who tried to assassinate Andrew Jackson in 1835, one of the few times the defense worked, and that of Daniel M’Naghten, who tried to assassinate the British prime minister in 1843. M’Naghten’s insanity plea was denied, however, because the law proved that he knew, but did not understand, the act was wrong. And that was what ultimately doomed Dunn, whose sad story constitutes more than half the book. Vinocour does a fine job explaining the defense in layman’s terms. Sterling prose helps make this a page-turner. Agent: Jennifer Herrera, David Black Agency. (Mar.)

The Last Odyssey

James Rollins. Morrow, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-289289-8

Bestseller Rollins’s excellent 15th Sigma Force novel (after 2018’s Crucible) marries nail-biting action with a highly imaginative premise. Elena Cargill, an archaeologist and paleoanthropologist, rushes to Greenland at the behest of a friend, Maria Crandall, who’s a member of Sigma, a U.S. government organization that retrains gifted soldiers in various scientific disciplines. Crandall has learned of an amazing find beneath a giant iceberg—an Arab oceanic merchant vessel, apparently shipwrecked in the ninth century. Cargill and two colleagues visit the ship, in which they discover such wonders as a three-dimensional gold map embedded with an astrolabe, before coming under attack from a group of Middle Easterners, who take Cargill hostage. Crandall and other Sigma Force members later embark on a mission to save Cargill and understand the significance of the vessel, which may be connected with the historical basis for Homer’s Odyssey and a lost nation that destroyed three major civilizations between 1100 BCE and 900 BCE. Rollins sprinkles in enough facts and details to make what could have been an over-the-top premise plausible. This is a thoughtful, nonstop thrill ride that’s an exemplar of an escapist page-turner. Author tour. Agents: Russ Galen, Scovil Galen Ghosh Literary Agency; and Danny Baror, Baror International. (Mar.)

Problem Child: A Jane Doe Thriller

Victoria Helen Stone. Lake Union, $14.95 trade paper (266p) ISBN 978-1-5420-1439-7

Stone’s outstanding sequel to 2018’s Jane Doe finds Minneapolis attorney Jane, a sociopathic antihero, taking pleasure in destroying the career of a legal colleague who stole credit for her work; she’s also settled in a steady relationship with her sweet boyfriend, Luke. When Luke suggests they move in together, Jane is so upset she decides to leave town. The news that her 16-year-old niece, Kayla Stringer, “a spooky, cold-blooded bitch” like Jane herself, has disappeared provides her with the pretext to go to Oklahoma, where she first visits her brother, Kayla’s father, who’s indifferent to his daughter’s fate. In her search for the missing teen, she behaves in various socially unacceptable ways. Stone flips the murderous, dead-inside sociopath stereotype on its head with a successful narrator, who, though she doesn’t care for others, is practical and self-aware, showing decadent, almost inappropriate delight, for example, in delicious food. Readers will find vicarious joy in Jane’s petty vengeances and unabashed meanness to anyone who tries to take advantage of her. Stone turns some very dark material into an upbeat tale. (Mar.)

Unworthy Republic: The Dispossession of Native Americans and the Road to Indian Territory

Claudio Saunt. Norton, $26.95 (416p) ISBN 978-0-393-60984-4

University of Georgia history professor Saunt (West of the Revolution) investigates the origins and repercussions of the 1830 Indian Removal Act in this eye-opening and distressing chronicle. Contending that the “state-administered mass expulsion” of 80,000 Native Americans from their homelands was both “unprecedented” and avoidable, Saunt contrasts pro-deportation depictions of indigenous peoples as “impoverished drunks” facing “imminent extinction” with examples of diverse communities interwoven into regional economies in the Great Lakes and Southeast. He incisively recounts congressional debates over removal (Southern slave owners wanted to open up new territories for cotton production; Northern reformers argued that preexisting treaties should be honored) and notes that the legislation passed by a mere five votes in the House of Representatives. When Native Americans refused to emigrate, state officials turned “ordinary property and criminal law into instruments of oppression,” Saunt writes, and by the mid-1830s, federal troops were engaged in “exterminatory warfare” against indigenous families. He tallies deaths along the Trail of Tears, millions of dollars in real estate losses, and the spread of slavery into new regions across the South. Saunt presents a stark and well-documented case that Native American expulsion was a political choice rather than an inevitable tragedy. This searing account forces a new reckoning with American history. (Mar.)