This week, we highlight new books from James Lee Burke, Meryl Wilsner, and Loren D. Estleman.

Visions in a Seer Stone: Joseph Smith and the Making of the Book of Mormon

William L. Davis. Univ. of North Carolina, $29.95 (272p) ISBN 978-1-46965-566-6

Davis, an independent scholar, successfully depicts in his engrossing debut the sociocultural milieu of Mormon prophet Joseph Smith and the 1829 creation of the Book of Mormon. Davis explores 19th-century composition techniques for sermons and speeches, such as the practice of “laying heads” (a brief oral outline) or using “concealed outlines” (limits for any given topic), and argues that the Book of Mormon, created from transcriptions, is “one of the longest recorded oral performances in the history of the United States.” Rejecting the idea that Smith was uneducated, Davis paints a picture of him as a man of pastoral appeal, trained as a lay Methodist “exhorter” in a time of religious revival and burgeoning new religious movements. Davis claims that Smith “preached the Book of Mormon as much as he composed it” and demonstrates how the Book of Mormon must be seen within the wider context of premeditative, semi-extemporaneous Protestant preaching during the period. At the same time, Davis takes pains to respect that Smith believed the Book of Mormon was written with “divine inspiration and guidance.” Readers interested in Mormon studies or mid-19th-century American religions will be enlightened by Davis’s thorough analysis. (May)

Automatic Reload

Ferrett Steinmetz. Tor, $16.99 trade paper (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-16821-4

A cyborg mercenary works to protect a genetically enhanced woman from a powerful corporation in this consistently surprising, hyperkinetic action adventure from Steinmetz (The Sol Majestic). Former drone operator Mat, now more machine than man, is obsessed with preventing casualties on his oft-violent missions. Despite his reluctance to work for the shadowy International Access Corporation, Mat accepts a lucrative job protecting one of its packages in transit. But when he discovers the package is Silvia, a woman experimented on against her will and transformed into a monstrous killer, Mat turns on his employers to rescue her. As the two try to outwit IAC, they forge an unexpected bond, helping each other face their respective trauma. Steinmetz expertly fuses cyberpunk staples and romantic comedy elements to deliver an over-the-top, action-packed tale while also addressing mental illness and body issues. In tackling Silvia’s panic disorder and Mat’s PTSD, as well as their respective feelings of dysphoria, Steinmetz imbues this rip-roaring tale with a surprising amount of sensitivity and heart. This thoroughly satisfying story works as both thriller and romance. Agent: Evan Gregory, the Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. (May)

The Way of Gratitude: A New Spirituality for Today

Galen Guengerich. Random House, $26 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-51141-0

Guengerich (God Revised), senior minister at the Unitarian Church of All Souls in New York, speaks to “spiritual but not religious” readers seeking meaning, joy, and transcendence, in this well-reasoned manifesto for a spirituality based on gratitude. The author draws on his experience—he left the Conservative Mennonite Church in which he was raised—as well as stories from his congregants in constructing a system of beliefs and practices based on prayer, personal relationships, and “shared human dignity” that move one beyond “what we need or want, maybe what we hope to get away with—to the awareness that we are part of a larger whole.” For Guengerich, “the longing for a comprehensive sense of meaning and a deep sense of purpose... remains unmet by secularism.” To fill this gap, he proposes that gratitude can provide connections, create beauty, and maximize human dignity. The author also borrows from the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead to answer basic theological questions about why things happen, for example, how does the history of religion inform one’s understanding of God? “When I use the term God,” Guengerich writes, “I do so in this sense—as the experience of ultimate belonging... God is the experience of possibility.” At the end, he follows his more abstract considerations with concrete suggestions for meditation and fasting. This deceptively simple work will appeal to spiritual explorers of any stripe. (May)

The Shooting at Château Rock: A Bruno, Chief of Police Novel

Martin Walker. Knopf, $25.95 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-65665-4

In Walker’s outstanding 13th outing for St. Denis, France, chief of police Benoît “Bruno” Courrèges (after 2019’s The Body in the Castle Well), 70ish retired rock star Rod Macrae, his much younger wife, and their college-age children, Jamie and Kirsty, are spending a last summer together at their country house, Château Rock, before the parents amicably divorce. Jamie is joined by his girlfriend, Galina, a Russian oligarch’s daughter. When a sheep farmer dies and his children learn that they’ve been disinherited, Bruno investigates. He soon suspects there’s a connection between the farmer’s suspicious death and Galina’s father, whose shadowy shell businesses may be a cover for illicit activity throughout the Mediterranean and the E.U. Meanwhile, the obliging Bruno helps plan and prepare meals, teaches children to swim, and considers breeding his pedigree hunting dog. Francophiles will relish the evocative descriptions of the Périgord region and its cuisine. Distinctive characters complement the intricate mystery. Readers new to this elegant series will feel right at home. Agent: Stephanie Cabot, Gernert Agency. (May)

Something to Talk About

Meryl Wilsner. Berkley, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-10252-7

Wilsner’s sparkling debut offers a glimpse at the truth behind the tabloid headlines. When child star turned showrunner Jo Jones takes her assistant Emma Kaplan to the SAG awards to be her buffer from the press, the paparazzi capture them sharing a genuine smile, and speculation about the nature of their relationship flies. While Emma wants to dispel the rumors that she’s sleeping with her boss, Jo has a policy of never publicly commenting on her love life and argues that it would only fan the flames if she were to break her silence now. They grow closer during the months of “no comment” that follow, leading both Emma and Jo to realize that maybe the tabloids got something right this time. Their romance burns tantalizingly slowly as they navigate their professional relationship and budding feelings; Wilsner makes sure the reader knows both women intimately before allowing them to be intimate with one another, making the eventual payoff that much more rewarding. The supporting cast—among whom Emma’s sister, Avery, especially shines—adds depth and dimension to this charming rom-com. This is a gem. Agent: Devin Ross, New Leaf Literary. (June)

Feasting Wild: In Search of the Last Untamed Food

Gina Rae La Cerva. Greystone, $26.95 (336p) ISBN 978-1-77164-533-1

La Cerva, a geographer and environmental anthropologist, explores in her impressive debut humans’ relationship to wild food and the disappearing places and animals that provide it. Starting at Noma, the Michelin-starred Danish restaurant that relies exclusively on local and wild ingredients, La Cerva explores how “the seemingly archaic practice of gathering wild plants is having a resurgence.” She travels to several continents to explore the landscapes that once provided a natural abundance of food but have been dramatically impacted by development, climate change, and shifting values. She recalls her “feral” upbringing in New Mexico (where she picked “the fuzzy hairs of prickly pears out of my fingers, the tips stained red from the peeling of the fleshy fruit”); travels to Poland to explore her ancestral roots (“I withdrew toward the wilderness to strip away the superficialities—to regain contact with the essential”) as she wanders through “grasslands filled with rare birds”; and meets folks living off the land, such as “The Hunter,” a Swede living in the Congo who also heads an anti-poaching patrol in local national parks. La Cerva’s beautifully written narrative is as tantalizing as it is edifying. (May)

Breathing Through the Wound

Victor Del Arbol, trans. from the Spanish by Lisa Dillman. Other Press, $19.99 trade paper (688p) ISBN 978-1-59051-843-4

Madrid portrait artist Eduardo Quintana, the hero of this twisted tale from Del Arbol (The Sadness of the Samurai), lost part of a leg 14 years earlier after a reckless driver struck the car he was riding in; the collision killed his wife and teenage daughter. Quintana remains deeply affected by his loss. His gallery owner friend, Olga , who’s displaying some of his older work, informs him that Gloria Tager, one of the world’s most prestigious violinists, has sought out Quintana’s work in Olga’s gallery and is looking to hire him to paint a portrait. Quintana reluctantly agrees to meet the musician, only to learn that she, too, lost a child to a reckless driver—and that she wants him to paint a portrait of Arthur Fernandez, a drunk motorist who’s been able to work the system to get out of prison early. The painter’s choice to accept the commission leads to more violence. The reveals provide multiple gut punches that require readers to reevaluate their assumptions about the characters and plot developments. Noir fans will get their money’s worth. (July)

A Private Cathedral: A Dave Robicheaux Novel

James Lee Burke. Simon & Schuster, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-9821-5168-3

A centuries-long feud between two warring criminal families might be coming to an end in MWA Grand Master Burke’s superb 23rd novel featuring New Iberia, La., cop Dave Robicheaux (after 2019’s New Iberia Blues), set loosely sometime before 9/11. Those who want to forge a union between the two clans, the Shondells and the Balangies, are pressuring teenage rock ’n’ roller Johnny Shondell to deliver Isolde Balangie, his teenage girlfriend and fellow singer, to his powerful, corrupt, and much older uncle, Mark Shondell, for what amounts to an arranged marriage. Johnny and Isolde decide to go on the run instead. Robicheaux’s efforts on behalf of the young couple lead to his developing a close relationship with Isolde’s mother, which causes a conflict of interest. Meanwhile, the lawman must contend with Gideon Richetti, a time-traveling golem. Gideon, whom Burke presents unabashedly as a supernatural being, appears to have pure malevolence on his mind, but he turns out to be a far more complicated creation. Along the way to the wild and bloody climax, alcoholic Vietnam vet Robicheaux contends with his various personal demons and gets some much needed help from PI pal Clete Purcell. An imaginative blend of crime and other genres, Burke’s existential drama is both exquisitely executed and profoundly moving. Agent: Philip Spitzer, Philip G. Spitzer Literary. (May)


Kelly Yang. HarperCollins/Tegen, $18.99 (496p) ISBN 978-0-06-294108-4

In her YA debut, Yang (Front Desk) draws from personal experience and the news to tell a contemporary story of class discrepancy, the pervasiveness of rape culture, and the Asian diaspora. Claire Wang, a high school junior living in Shanghai, is used to a life of luxury, while Filipina American Dani De La Cruz, a debate champ and Yale hopeful who is on a full scholarship at California’s American Preparatory, is living a completely different life, cleaning homes to help make ends meet. After receiving a bad grade, Claire is appalled when her parents transfer her to an American high school: Dani’s. American Prep is a magnet for parachutes, or “kids from China who come to the U.S. on our own,” often scions of wealthy families. When Dani’s mom rents out their spare room to an international student, the girls’ lives become twined, even as they chafe at the other’s socioeconomic misunderstandings. But when each girl experiences a traumatic incident, they learn about the devastating convergences of power, money, and male privilege. Despite occasionally flat side characters, this is a multifaceted read, by turns poignant, fun, and exultant in its celebration of the multitudinous experiences and strength inherent in diasporic identity. Ages 14–up. Agent: Tina Dubois, ICM Partners. (May)


Loren D. Estleman. Forge, $25.99 (224p) ISBN 978-1-2502-5835-9

Edgar finalist Estleman effortlessly melds film history with a whodunit in his gripping sixth mystery featuring UCLA movie archivist Valentino (after 2016’s Brazen). Valentino is devoted to locating and acquiring “rare motion pictures so they can be preserved for future generations to see and appreciate.” He gets a unique opportunity from Ignacio Bozal, a wealthy man with a shadowy past, who gives him the only known copy of Bleak Street, a never-released movie, in which an obscure actor named Van Oliver starred as a gangster based on Bugsy Siegel. Oliver disappeared and was believed to have been murdered, possibly by the mob, in 1959, before the picture could be released. The PR department at UCLA insists that Valentino try to shed light on Oliver’s fate, to bolster the publicity for the planned screening of Bleak Street. Valentino sets out to see how much he can learn, decades later, about what actually happened from the few people left involved with the film, including a fellow actor who was the last person known to have seen Oliver alive. The solution to the cold case is both clever and surprising. Film noir buffs will be in heaven. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (May)