This week, we highlight new books from Ann Cleeves, Nancy Pearl, and J.D. Robb.
What They Meant for Evil: How a Lost Girl of Sudan Found Healing, Peace and Purpose in the Midst of Suffering
“War never brings healing,” writes Deng, one of 89 “Lost Girls of Sudan” and an international speaker, in this affecting debut memoir. At six years old, Deng’s home was attacked by marauders, and she was forced to flee, an escape she recounts in harrowing, riveting detail. Then, in the mid-1990s, living in a stultifying refugee camp with meager food, chronic depression, and constant violence, Deng found hope and fellowship with a makeshift church. After eight years in the camp, she was given the opportunity to move to the U.S. in 2000, but just two days before her departure she was raped by a man in the camp. She forged forward nonetheless, more excited than ever to be leaving after learning that her foster parents went to church. Once in America, Deng learned she was pregnant and, at first, felt a deep sadness. In the end, though, she writes that her love for the baby “made it possible for me to begin to forgive” the man who raped her. She adds, “What brings healing is honoring the pain, acknowledging its impact, trusting God to secure lasting justice, and forgiving those who have caused our suffering.” Her gripping account attests to the power of faith and forgiveness to transform suffering into love.
The business world’s obsession with disruption has been applied far too liberally and broadly, argues Vinsel, a Virginia Tech assistant professor of science, technology, and society, and Russell, dean of arts and science at SUNY Polytechnic, in this resounding call for sane business growth. The Silicon Valley ethos of “failing faster” can work for website and app developers, for whom profit margins are high and the costs of failure are low—but it’s terrible advice for people building tangible items. Tired of the “move fast and break things” ethos, the authors decry the overselling of “design thinking” as a credo, especially in nonbusiness fields like education. Vinsel and Russell profile businesspeople, including Andrea Goulet, CEO of the “software mending” firm Corgibytes, and Yury Izrailevsky and Ariel Tseitlin, formerly Netflix’s directors of, respectively, cloud solutions and systems architecture, whom they celebrate for being concerned with upkeep rather than invention, and visit a maintenance managers’ convention to learn about this profession’s mindset. Readers will come away from Vinsel and Russell’s urgent and illuminating primer with a new perspective on the importance of maintenance as well as innovation in business.
CWA Diamond Dagger Award winner Cleeves’s superb ninth novel featuring astute, irascible Det. Insp. Vera Stanhope (after 2017’s The Seagull) finds Vera driving home late one night through rural Northumberland in a blizzard when she comes upon a car that’s slewed off the road. The driver is gone, but Vera discovers a toddler strapped into a car seat. Soon after she transfers the child to her own car, she realizes that she’s close to Brockburn, the once grand family home of the Stanhopes, and decides to go there. She last visited the place with her father when she was 15, and remembers that “the family had been unfailingly polite. That branch of the clan used politeness as a weapon of mass destruction.” At Brockburn, the abandoned car’s driver, a young woman, is found murdered behind the house. Vera assembles her loyal, if at times exasperated, homicide team to investigate, and comes to realize that the “whole case... was about families, about what held them together and what ripped them apart.” This fair-play mystery brims with fully developed suspects and motives that are hidden in plain sight. Skillful misdirection masks the killer’s identity. This page-turner is must reading for fans as well as newcomers.
Pearl, a librarian and critic, and Schwager, a journalist and playwright, bring boundless enthusiasm and curiosity to this eclectic and probing book of interviews. The 22 authors represented are a varied and never boring cohort, most of whom reminisce about beloved series from childhood, such as The Great Brain and Encyclopedia Brown (both adored by Andrew Sean Greer and Michael Chabon). All of the interviewees muse intently on what they value about touchstone writers: Madeline Miller enthuses about discovering Margaret Atwood and Lorrie Moore in high school, who “were just so exciting, linguistically, to read... I didn’t know you could use language like that,” while Laila Lalami praises V.S. Naipaul, particularly A House for Mr. Biswas, for his candid exploration of the “cross-cultural encounter.” Susan Choi recalls, with some embarrassment, trying to write her version of George Orwell’s 1984. As Pearl and Schwager note, “One of the best parts of talking about books with people... is discovering that you share a love of the same books.” Readers of this delightful compendium will relish the chance to find many of those shared loves, as well as discover new ones.
Geter’s vivid debut invokes the pain of familial dislocation, illness, and death, exacerbated by the twin plagues of xenophobia and racism. The marriage of Geter’s parents (a Nigerian Muslim woman and a former Southern Baptist black man) saw her family move from Africa to various inhospitable locations in the U.S.: “my father leans down the barrel of a shotgun/ house/ and looks in both directions.” “Lesson one: there’s no god/ in Alabama,” Geter writes in “Alabama Parable.” Many of the narratives are moving, and the mother-daughter dynamic is central to the collection: “In America, no one would say her name/ correctly. I watched it rust/ beneath the salt of so many.” There is joy to be found in Muslim prayer and the Hausa language, but every blessing has an underside: Nigeria is “the land where my family will ask/ why I haven’t a husband.” Racism is addressed in poems recounting the murders of Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and Michael Brown, and personal compulsions offer their own dangers: “I’ve always been/ attracted to little/ violences.” It is this violence, captured in rich, musical language, that command such power.
Zoe Hallett, the narrator of Warburton’s arresting debut, believes she has been humiliated by her older sister, Ava, an author who has based any number of unflattering characters on her in several bestselling thrillers. Three years earlier, Zoe cut ties with her family, maintaining that her cold, clinical psychotherapist parents wouldn’t care if they never saw her again. Now living under an assumed name in Houston, Zoe is happily married and a doting stepmother to a precocious four-year-old girl. When Ava goes missing from her home in Arlington, Va., the story makes national news and Zoe figures her sister is just after publicity. In fact, Ava has been kidnapped, and she wonders whether Zoe is behind her abduction. When it appears that Zoe recently sent Ava threatening emails, Zoe travels to Arlington to look into the disappearance and prove her innocence. A breathless energy imbues the strong plot, which alternates between Zoe’s tense family relationships and Ava’s claustrophobic captivity. Warburton delves deep into the psychological underpinnings of her believable characters in this highly entertaining domestic thriller. Readers will eagerly anticipate her next.
At the start of bestseller Perry’s excellent sequel to 2019’s Death in Focus, likewise set in 1933, Peter Howard, of British Military Intelligence, offers fledgling British spy Elena Standish, a gifted photographer who’s fluent in German and Italian, a new assignment. Aiden Strother, one of the service’s most important assets, is gathering information in Italy, but his handler there is unreachable at a crucial moment. Having learned that Strother’s cover has been blown, Howard wants Elena to go to Trieste, posing as a photographer, to warn Strother to get out safely with as much data as possible. Elena accepts the responsibility, even though she feels Strother betrayed her trust six years earlier when he was posing as a Nazi sympathizer and cost her her position at the Foreign Office. Meanwhile, Elena’s older sister, Margot, adds to the intrigue by traveling to Berlin for the wedding of a childhood friend to a Gestapo officer. Perry expertly blends character development with plot surprises. This prolific author shows no sign of losing steam.
At the start of bestseller Robb’s excellent 51st Eve Dallas novel set in mid-21st-century New York City (after Golden in Death), a call to a murder scene takes Eve, a New York Police and Security Department lieutenant, and her husband, Roarke, to Washington Square Park, where Galla Modesto, an heir to the Modesto Wine and Spirits company, has been stabbed to death. Amid the onlookers, Roarke spies Lorcan Cobbe, an assassin he recognizes from his time growing up in Dublin, and is convinced Cobbe is the killer. Cobbe, who flees the scene, hates Roarke, because Roarke’s father refused to acknowledge Cobbe as his son. Roarke acts as a consultant to Eve and her team, who soon determine that Galla’s jealous husband may have hired Cobbe to kill Galla because she was having an affair. The NYPSD officers work tirelessly to find Cobbe before he strikes again. The investigation takes a number of twists and turns before it reaches its explosive conclusion. Robb’s many fans will be enthralled.
The brilliant fourth book from Gay, his first since winning the National Book Critics Circle Award with 2015’s Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, continues his now-signature inquiry into feeling. Shaped as a single poem in a long sentence of center-justified couplets, the drama of this unfolding sentence is impeccable, a suspension that mirrors its subject: basketball Hall-of-Famer Julius Erving’s midair “baseline scoop” in the 1980 NBA finals. An invocation of a video of Erving opens the poem’s investigation into flight, falling, and Black genius: “[H]ave you ever decided anything/ in the air?” Gay asks in an interjection. In the space of that air, he crafts a book of associative digression, exploring photography, his own upbringing, and the afterlife of slavery in the U.S. “[T]he cotton, the unshared crop,/ let’s hereon call it what it is,” he writes, “loot, plain and simple,/ which, too,// my great grandfather’s body was,/ loot, and his life, loot.” When, in interjections and asides to the reader, a period does appear, it is not as a halt or a command but a gesture of care: “But let’s breathe first./ We’re always holding our breath.// Let’s stop and breathe, you and me.” This extraordinary book offers an unforgettable flight from the conventional boundaries of the sentence.
Clapsaddle’s lush debut thrusts 19-year-old Cowney Sequoyah into WWII intrigue. In 1942, Cowney leaves his home on the Cherokee reservation in North Carolina for a groundskeeping job at Asheville’s Grove Park Inn and Resort, which is being used by the government to intern enemy diplomats and their families. On the grounds, he uncovers a mysterious, human-looking bone, which he shows only to fellow Cherokee Essie Stomper, whom he falls for. Essie doesn’t share Cowney’s feelings, however, and embarks on a forbidden affair with Andrea, an Italian “guest.” Meanwhile, Cowney keeps quiet with his family about his doubts over the sketchy details shared with him about his father’s death by the Germans following Armistice Day. After a diplomat’s young child goes missing, and Essie, sure Cowney told their boss about her relationship with Andrea, tells the soldiers guarding the resort about the bone Cowney has been holding onto. A colonel confiscates the bone, which he takes to be a sign of Cowney’s evil nature and casts him under suspicion (“I know you people do all kinds of godforsaken things”). The clear, crisp prose hums consistently as the intricate story easily moves along and new details about Cowney’s family’s past emerge. Both an astonishing addition to WWII and Native American literature, this novel sings on every level.