This week, we highlight new books from Erik Olin Wright, Alex White, and Molly Aitken.

The Silence of the White City

Eva García Sáenz, trans. from the Spanish by Nick Caistor. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, $16.95 trade paper (400p) ISBN 978-1-9848-9859-3

In the stunning first in Sáenz’s White City trilogy, a mélange of offbeat police procedural, Basque legends, and world mythology, Insp. Unai López de Ayala investigates a series of ritualistic murders in Vitoria, Spain, that eerily resemble the sensational crimes that were committed in the area 20 years earlier, all at prehistoric sites. A prominent archaeologist, Tasio Ortiz de Zárate, was arrested at the time and convicted of the crimes thanks to evidence supplied by his twin brother, Ignacio, a policeman. Since Tasio has been in prison ever since, Unai has to wonder whether Tasio was innocent or had an accomplice. Unai embarks on what becomes a self-sacrificing quest to prevent evil from destroying innocence. Along the way to the shattering conclusion, Sáenz (The Sons of Adam) examines the complex relationship between Tasio and Ignacio, as well as Unai’s grief over the death of his wife, who was pregnant with twins. Fascinating local color, a handsomely crafted plot, and exquisite characterization make this a standout. Readers will eagerly await the next volume in the series. (July)

Stardust to Stardust: Reflections on Living and Dying

Erik Olin Wright. Haymarket, $26.95 (260p) ISBN 978-1-64259-158-3

This intimate, informal posthumous memoir from sociologist Wright (Class, Crisis, and the State) brings together his end-of-life blog entries meant to keep friends updated during his cancer treatment. Throughout the course of a 10-month treatment for acute myeloid lymphoma, Wright displays a joyful spirit and exemplifies an “optimism of the intellect” and “sustain[ing] optimism of the will” that he credits to his care staff. He compares his treatment and isolation to a trip by an astronaut and, as the disease worsens, explores how he finds nothing incongruous in the experience of being both deeply happy and deathly ill. Wright expresses particular joy in his interactions with colleagues and in visits with his grandchildren. Though Wright occasionally pauses for quiet musings, there’s a lively busyness throughout as he works on writing projects, endures increasingly complex and discouraging medical appointments, and enjoys music. While the upfront knowledge of Wright’s fate creates a melancholic reading experience, the overall effect of his fortitude and humor is one of delight. These touching, wise remembrances demonstrate how joys can arise from even the darkest moments. (July)

The Worst of All Possible Worlds

Alex White. Orbit, $16.99 trade paper (528p) ISBN 978-0-316-41214-8

The unputdownable final space opera of White’s Salvagers trilogy (following A Bad Deal for the Whole Galaxy) launches the scrappy crew of the Capricious into a deadly, all-or-nothing battle against a magic-wielding genocidal maniac who plans to obliterate life across the galaxy. Lives, treasures, and entire planets have been lost, and now the wisecracking, sharp-edged Capricious salvage crew must race to track down the last pieces of knowledge and technology they need to defeat Henrick Witts, a foe who possesses godly magic that was thought to be long forgotten. As if they weren’t in over their heads already, they must also locate the mythic, heavily defended location of humanity’s homeworld, and face down Witts’s lethal space station, which has the capacity to devastate entire starship fleets. White’s tale of justice and vengeance sends the series out on a high note with electrifying action sequences, depth, and darkness. This thrilling finale will have readers on the edges of their seats. Agent: Connor Goldsmith, Fuse Literary. (Aug.)

Unspeakable Acts: True Tales of Crime, Murder, Deceit, and Obsession

Edited by Sarah Weinman. Ecco, $18.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-06-283988-6

Weinman (The Real Lolita: The Kidnapping of Sally Horner and the Novel That Scandalized the World) provides a worthy successor to the Best American Crime Reporting annual series in this thoughtful and wide-ranging true crime anthology, which includes 13 previously published essays. The recent shift in reporting such stories from the victim’s perspective is exemplified in the deeply sad retelling of the 1966 University of Texas mass shooting, Pamela Colloff’s “The Reckoning: The Story of Claire Wilson.” Wilson was seriously injured by the sniper who carried out a shooting spree from the UT Tower, killing Wilson’s boyfriend and the baby she was carrying at the time. Sarah Marshall’s disturbing “The End of Evil” details her struggle to decide whether serial killer Ted Bundy should be thought of as belonging “to a separate species from the rest of us.” And in an era when true crime podcasts and TV shows continue to proliferate, Alice Bolin’s “The Ethical Dilemma of Highbrow True Crime” details the problems of such popular fare, which often contains unverified and potentially libelous speculations. The superior quality of these essays begs for future volumes. Agent: David Patterson, Stuart Krichevsky Literary. (July)

It is Wood, It is Stone

Gabriella Burnham. One World, $26 (224p) ISBN 978-1-9848-5583-1

Burnham’s captivating debut is told in a surprisingly seamless second person. Linda, the narrator, tells her husband, Dennis, about the year the American couple spent in Brazil, after Dennis was awarded an academic appointment at the University of São Paulo. There, after weeks of hapless depression, Linda is invigorated when she meets an enticing woman named Celia (a person who uses “romance as gunpowder”) in a bar. Later, she returns home, giddy with desire for Celia, and destroys Dennis’s favorite suit, the anxious logic of this action meted out by Burnham with painstaking clarity. At her most gawky and strange, Linda is reminiscent of a character out of Clarice Lispector’s oeuvre. Observant and obsessive, Linda feels the pulse of desire (“No matter how steady I trained my mind to be, my body reigned over all”). Throughout is the mysterious presence of Dennis and Linda’s São Paulo housekeeper, Marta, whose competence intimidates Linda. Burnham dazzles by exploring the overlapping circles of need and care though tensions of race, privilege, sexuality, history, and memory. Thanks to Burnham’s precise, vivid understanding of her characters, this stranger-comes-to-town novel has the feel of a thriller as it illuminates the obligations of emotional labor. Burnham pulls off an electrifying twist on domestic fiction. Agent: Marya Spence, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (June)

Relentless: A Drizzt Novel

R.A .Salvatore. Harper Voyager, $28.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-268867-5

The exhilarating conclusion to Salvatore’s Generations trilogy (after Boundless) illustrates the power of family, both born and chosen. When dark elf Zaknafein Do’Urden, weapon master of House Do’Urden, becomes a father, he’s determined to keep his son, Drizzt, the hero of Salvatore’s Forgotten Realms series, from being corrupted by Drizzt’s evil mother and the hate-driven underground society of Menzonberranzan. But when Zaknafein grows afraid that his enemies will use Drizzt to get to him, he leaves Drizzt in order to keep him safe. Jumping forward centuries, Salvatore shows the long-lasting consequences of choices made by both Zaknafein and Drizzt. Drizzt’s wife, Catti-Brie, is about to have a child, and the family she’s created with friends and loved ones from all different races of supernatural beings are in the midst of their most fearsome battle yet against the powers of the underworld. The question of Drizzt’s survival will be on the minds of all returning readers, and Salvatore expertly draws out the suspense en route to an ending that is sure to satisfy series fans. Amid epic sword and sorcery clashes, Salvatore makes a powerful case for love and compassion conquering even the strongest of evils. Fans will be sad to see this fantastic series end. Agent: Paul Lucas, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Aug.)

The Butterfly Lampshade

Aimee Bender. Doubleday, $26.95 (304p) ISBN 978-0-38-553487-1

In Bender’s astounding meditation on time, space, mental illness, and family—her first novel in a decade (after The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake)—a 28-year-old woman works to solidify her memories from childhood. Francie is eight years old when her mother has a psychotic break and smashes her own hand with a hammer in an attempt to destroy the “illness that could still swerve and jag inside her.” Francie’s aunt and uncle arrange for Francie to stay with them, and as she lays in bed at her babysitter's house anticipating her trip, she admires a lampshade covered in butterfly prints, only to discover, upon waking, a dead butterfly floating in the glass of water beside her. Desperate to hold onto the butterfly, and to hide it from the babysitter, she swallows it. Now, 20 years later, with the help of younger cousin, Vicky, who she grew up with and is like a sister, Francie builds a “memory tent,” and imagines the “tiny triangular empty moneyless canvas silent casino” will restore the slippery memories of her childhood. Bender grounds the tale with observations on the ephemeral nature of moments in time (“when it seems like words won’t bruise the moment”), as Francie harnesses a childlike perspective to explore the trauma of her mother’s breakdown. Rich in language and the magic of human consciousness, Bender’s masterpiece is one to savor. Agent: Henry Dunow, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner Agency. (July)

To Start a War: How the Bush Administration Took America into Iraq

Robert Draper. Penguin Press, $30 (496p) ISBN 978-0-525-56104-0

Delusions, turf battles, and hubris drove a march of folly, according to this caustic and engrossing study of the run-up to the 2003 Iraq War. Journalist Draper (Dead Certain) documents the vaulting ambitions and outsized egos of Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz, long obsessed with overthrowing Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein; Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, a Machiavellian bureaucratic infighter who used the war to aggrandize his Pentagon fiefdom; Vice President Dick Cheney, who fixated on farfetched Iraqi threat scenarios; President George W. Bush, who felt a messianic duty to protect America and liberate Iraq; and CIA director George Tenet, who obligingly distorted the intelligence to validate “First Customer” Bush’s preconceptions. Drawing on hundreds of interviews, Draper details how the Administration misled itself and the public about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction and ties to Al Qaeda, and dissects the starry-eyed assumptions and egregious lack of planning that turned the occupation into a bloody quagmire. Though the outlines of this story are familiar, Draper’s psychological insights, well-crafted narrative, and colorful details spotlight the human complexity behind this tragic episode. The history of the Iraq War has rarely been told with so much authority and precision. Agent: Sloan Harris, ICM Partners. (July)

The Island Child

Molly Aitken. Knopf, $26.95 (352p) ISBN 978-0-525-65837-5

Aitken brings myth and folklore to bear in her haunting debut, a chronicle of troubled mothers and daughters set in the late 20th century. Like generations of women before her on the fictional Irish island of Inis, Oona is reared for domesticity and motherhood. As a teenager, she envies her brothers’ freedoms and is fascinated by Aislinn, a free-spirited young widow who dares to suggest women can control their own reproductive futures. Oona dreams of escape, and eventually seizes her opportunity. Years later, when her own young adult daughter disappears, Oona returns to the bleak and treeless island of her youth, where she must contend with secrets that still lie buried. Though set in the recent past in parallel chronologies, Aitken’s tale feels outside of time. The primitive nature of life on Inis reinforces the mood, as does the inclusion of folk- and fairy tale–vignettes set between chapters. Bearing overtones of Greek mythology and Celtic folklore, Oona’s story also addresses very real concerns: sexual violence, abortion, postpartum depression, and the legacy of familial trauma. Similarly, Aitken’s prose is by turns placidly lyrical, humorous, and sharply pointed, honed by women’s anger over countless generations. Bold and perceptive, Aitken’s self-assured storytelling and understanding of classic themes stand out in contemporary Irish fiction. (July)