This week, we highlight new books from Colin Dickey, Fiona Davis, and Kristin Harmel.

The Unidentified: Mythical Monsters, Alien Encounters, and Our Obsession with the Unexplained

Colin Dickey. Viking, $27 (320p) ISBN 978-0-525-55756-2

Dickey (Ghostland), a National University creative writing professor, leads readers on a fascinating expedition through fringe belief and theory. Conducting extensive research into cryptozoology, UFOlogy, and other pseudoscientific fields, he investigates myths throughout the U.S., from Northern California’s Mount Shasta, inside which the possibly extraterrestrial Lemurians are said to dwell, to the “southern New Jersey creature of note,” the Jersey Devil, a fusion between Lenape myth and Puritan folklore reborn in the early 20th century as a “money-making hoax” when a kangaroo was passed off to paying crowds as the captured Devil. Dickey posits various ideas about why unproven and outlandish stories exert such a hold on the imagination: conspiracy theories upset the divide between science and religion, while the concept of humanlike animals such as the Bigfoot “trouble[s] the line between human and nonhuman” and “interrupts the categories we make to make sense of the world.” With a wry tone and incisive analysis, Dickey explores how these stories have developed alongside the country through scientific innovations, evolving frontiers, changing ideas about race, and more. Readers will find this to be a thought-provoking and deliciously unsettling guide into the stranger corners of American culture. Agent: Anna Sproul-Latimer, Neon Literary. (July)

Twilight of the Gods: War in the Western Pacific, 1944-1945

Ian W. Toll. Norton, $40 (864p) ISBN 978-0-393-08065-0

Historian Toll (The Conquering Tide) brings his Pacific War trilogy to a dramatic conclusion in this expertly told account of the final year of WWII. After an intriguing examination of how FDR directed the efforts of U.S. military commanders Douglas MacArthur, Chester Nimitz, and William “Bull” Halsey to roll back earlier Japanese advances, Toll switches from grand strategy to harrowing, first-person accounts of Pacific Theater battles. At Leyte, the Japanese turned kamikaze attacks into both a propaganda tool and an integral element of their defense against America’s carrier fleet. Fulfilling his promise to return to the Philippines, General MacArthur liberated POWs held since 1942 and declared victory at Manila in February 1945, only to face a month of “some of the most vicious urban fighting of the entire Second World War.” Controversy raged among military generals and the American public about whether the appalling casualties at Iwo Jima were justified, but the island’s airfields were needed to launch aerial bombing campaigns against mainland Japan, including the March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo. Toll describes the invasion of Okinawa as a “Pacific Verdun,” documents Allied efforts to negotiate peace, details the error-prone mission to bomb Nagasaki, and paints a poignant picture of the surrender ceremony aboard the USS Missouri. Written with flair and chock-full of stories both familiar and fresh, this monumental history fires on all cylinders. WWII aficionados will be enthralled. (July)

I Saw Him Die

Andrew Wilson. Washington Square, $17 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-5011-9756-7

In 1930, on the eve of Agatha Christie’s wedding to Max Mallowan, Christie accepts another mission from her friend John Davison, a Secret Intelligence Service agent, in Wilson’s outstanding fourth whodunit featuring the mystery writer (after 2019’s Death in a Desert Land). Davison is concerned about the welfare of Robin Kinmuir, who used to be one of the service’s best agents until a run of bad luck, including the death of his only son in WWI, the disappearance of his wife, and a botched operation that cost several operatives’ lives. Someone has been sending Kinmuir threatening letters, which warn that he will pay for his crimes with his life. Christie and Davison travel to Kinmuir’s home on the island of Skye, where, despite their vigilance, Kinmuir dies after being shot, apparently accidentally, by his nephew and heir in a hunting mishap. The plot takes multiple unexpected turns before a neat solution that pays homage to Christie’s own best fiction. Golden age fans will hope for more. Agent: Clare Alexander, Aitken Alexander Assoc. (July)


Esther Kinsky, trans. from the German by Caroline Schmidt. Transit, $16.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1945492-38-9

German writer and translator Kinsky (River) offers an exquisite and elusive diaristic work comprised of entries analogous to a researcher’s field notes. Kinsky follows an unnamed narrator who has sought refuge in Northern Italy after the death of her husband, M. The narrator’s references to M. are scant, and come to her in flashes of grief-laden memory. She heals by grounding herself in the present, detailing her excursions through Italian villages. Her observations of the landscapes are vivid and historicized (after seeing a Mussolini poster in a shop, she is unnerved by distant blasts from a construction site, which no one but her and the birds seems to notice), but the narrator’s descriptions of people, in particular a portrait of the narrator’s late Italophile father, are the most moving. By revisiting memories of her father, a jovial and troubling figure, the narrator is able to prepare herself for the more difficult acceptance of M.’s death. To call this a plotless novel would be a misunderstanding: Kinsky is a photographer’s novelist; her prose unravels like a roll of film as visual meditation. The true beauty of this work emerges with patience and contemplation. (July)

Baseless: My Search for Secrets in the Ruins of the Freedom of Information Act

Nicholson Baker. Penguin Press, $30 (464p) ISBN 978-0-7352-1575-7

America’s biological warfare programs are the focus of epic struggles for transparency in this mordant exposé. Novelist and historian Baker (Substitute) recounts his years-long investigation into U.S. Air Force, Army, and CIA projects during the 1940s and 1950s, including efforts to weaponize bubonic plague– and yellow fever–infected mosquitoes; feather bombs that dispersed turkey plumage dusted with crop-ruining plant pathogens; and a germ-warfare experiment that fogged San Francisco with bacteria. Controversially, he argues that biological weapons were used by the U.S. in the Korean War to spread lethal Korean hemorrhagic fever to Communist soldiers. Baker documents his quest to prove that thesis by obtaining military and intelligence documents through Freedom of Information Act requests, which proves a Kafkaesque ordeal of endless waiting for heavily censored reports. (There’s no smoking gun, but his supporting evidence is substantial.) Written with bemused fascination and occasional outrage (“What a pointless horror,” Baker observes of a study that infected guinea pigs with brucellosis), this lucid yet freewheeling narrative unearths much queasy detail about biological weapons and their promoters. The result is a colorful, engrossing recreation of a sinister history—and a convincing case for opening government archives to public scrutiny. Agent: Melanie Jackson, the Melanie Jackson Agency. (July)

The Book of Lost Names

Kristin Harmel. Gallery, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-98-213189-0

Harmel (The Winemaker’s Wife) brilliantly imagines the life of a young Polish-French Jewish woman during the depths of WWII. In 2005, Eva Traube, 86, lives in Winter Park, Fla., and works at the library, where she reads a newspaper story about a man in Germany returning rare books looted by the Nazis to WWII survivors. The story includes a photo of a book that once belonged to her, prompting her to leave immediately for Berlin. Harmel then transitions back to 1940s France, when 23-year-old Eva and her mother escape the roundups in Paris and end up in the tiny town of Aurignon. Eva meets document forger Rémy Duchamp, who draws her into the Resistance; Remy trains Eva, and the two inevitably grow closer as they work to provide papers for those fleeing the Nazi regime. Eva and Rémy devise a method of recording the names of unaccompanied escaping children, coding each name in an old library book, which Eva saw in the newspaper story. Now in Berlin, Eva hopes to recover and decode the names, and learn the fate of Rémy. Harmel movingly illustrates Eva’s courage to risk her own life for others, and all of the characters are portrayed with realistic compassion. This thoughtful work will touch readers with its testament to the endurance of hope. Agent: Holly Root, Root Literary. (July)

Heaven and Earth

Paolo Giordano, trans. from the Italian by Anne Milano Appel. Viking/Dorman, $28 (410p) ISBN 978-1-98-487731-4

Giordano’s extraordinary novel of fateful friendships and obsessive love (after The Solitude of Prime Numbers) revolves around an Italian woman’s memories of her summers in Puglia in the late 1990s. Teresa Gasparro is 14 and on one of her annual summer visits from Turin to her grandmother’s house in the small village of Speziale when she gets her first glimpse of the three boys who will change her life. Brothers Bern and Tommaso Coriano, and cousin Nicola Belpanno, live next door in a farmhouse and sneak in at night to swim naked in the villa’s pool. As Teresa gets to know the boys, she is invited to the farmhouse, which turns out to be home to a Christian sect that believes in reincarnation of all living things. Teresa is drawn instantly to Bern and constantly thinks about him and his world while back at school throughout the years, and during the summer she turns 17, they consummate their relationship. Before she leaves, she asks Bern to kiss her in front of the other boys, and the awkwardness reveals intense jealousy. Giordano then shifts to 2012, when Teresa reconnects with Tomasso, reflects on the disappearance of the other two from their lives, and learns the dark details of the boys’ past. Lush regional details, indelible characters, and a riveting story line make this an overwhelmingly emotional read. Giordano’s captivating tale is a magnificent testament to the lingering impact of a charged romance. Agent: Andrew Wylie, the Wylie Agency. (July)

The Lions of Fifth Avenue

Fiona Davis. Dutton, $27 (368p) ISBN 978-1-5247-4461-8

Davis (The Address) delves into the history of the New York Public Library in this delightful mystery. It’s 1913, and Jack and Laura Lyons have spent the past two years living in an apartment on a mezzanine tucked inside the library, since it opened. Jack is the library’s superintendent, while Laura raises their two children and studies journalism at Columbia. Tension builds when valuable first edition books start disappearing and Jack is the suspected thief. Davis then shifts to 1993, when Laura’s granddaughter Sadie is the library’s rare books curator, and a new wave of thefts begin. As the story transitions between Sadie and Laura, their differences stand out: Sadie is a quirky book lover who’s uneasy around people, while Laura blooms when she meets the revolutionary women of Greenwich Village, who fight for rights in a club called Heterodoxy. Laura’s journalism professor dismisses the club for “trying too hard to be intellectual,” prompting Laura to prove him wrong. Eventually she goes on to become a leading feminist essayist. Davis illuminates the world of special books through keen descriptions of the library and rare book dealers, while leading readers through the twin mysteries of the missing books. The characters and story are stellar, but the real star of the show is the library, which Davis evokes beautifully. (July)

Philip Johnson: A Visual Biography

Ian Volner. Phaidon, $150 (600p) ISBN 978-0-7148-7682-5

Volner (Michael Graves: Design for Life) presents a grand look at legendary architect Philip Johnson’s remarkable life and career in this lavishly illustrated visual biography. Employing rare archival material such as photographs, ephemera, and personal correspondence, Volner reveals the power and influence of larger-than-life Johnson, “a hierophant for new thinking and new trends, both within his own profession and in adjacent creative fields.” Volner narrates the architect’s life: born to a wealthy family in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1906, Johnson traveled widely in Europe as a young man before discovering a passion for architecture. Becoming the first curator of the Department of Architecture at New York City’s Museum of Modern Art in 1932, Johnson flirted dangerously with Nazism before finally establishing an architecture practice and achieving renown for his Glass House in New Canaan, Conn., in 1947. (Volner includes nearly 20 pages of images of the house.) Continually transforming himself and his field, Johnson would go on to help shape such New York City landmarks as the Seagram Building (in 1958), Lincoln Center (in 1969), and the AT&T building (in 1984). This accessible, thoughtful, and visually stunning work—it’s packed with more than 500 photographs—is perfect for architecture and modern art connoisseurs. (Apr.)