This week, we highlight new books from Christopher Fowler, Helene Tursten, and Peter Gizzi.
Williams impresses with the second book of his sophisticated Praxis trilogy (after 2018’s The Accidental War), more red meat for fans of high-quality space operas. After a financial crisis rocks the multispecies, interplanetary Praxis Empire, blame is placed on humans by one of the alien races that serve alongside humans on the Convocation, the empire’s ruling body. The false claim is used to justify a power grab: humans are booted off the Convocation and every Terran spaceship is disarmed. But a few humans, led by war hero Gareth Martinez, preempt the attack by seizing control of a handful of ships in the Praxis Fleet. Now Martinez and his allies, including his former love, Lady Sula, are desperate to avoid the tragic fate of other species the empire has deemed rebels and strategize the best way to restore humanity’s place in the empire. Williams never lets the tense action sequences overwhelm the complex inner struggles of his characters; he’s especially good at portraying Sula’s fears that she will be exposed as an imposter, having assumed the real Lady Sula’s identity years earlier. Newcomers will have no problem getting oriented in this rip-roaring sci-fi world, and returning readers will be thrilled to dive back in.
This fourth We Need Diverse Books anthology, edited by WNDB COO Clayton (The Belles), offers 15 speculative fiction short stories that are inclusive across gender identity, sexuality, race, ability, and religion. Tara Sim begins with a bang in the titular story, an enchanting offering wherein crystals help power the world and magic can be coaxed from cadavers. Kwame Mbalia conjures a poignant space odyssey in “Liberia,” starring botanist Kweku Aboah and other teens of color. Mark Oshiro’s “Unmoor” places memory-erasing runeworkers-for-hire in a queer, racially diverse narrative set in the Bay Area, and in “The Coldest Spot in the Universe,” Samira Ahmed chronicles two intertwined narratives nearly a millennium apart in a eulogy of Earth and an anthropological exploration of its downfall. Installments centering authors’ established properties will be of most interest to readers already familiar with them, but overall, this anthology resonates in its thorough enrichment of the canon, from fairy tale reconstructions to space operas.
In Fowler’s outstanding 18th Peculiar Crimes Unit mystery (after 2019’s The Lonely Hour), budget reductions have led to the disbanding of the PCU, a “specialized London police division with a remit to prevent or cause to cease any acts of public affright or violent disorder,” but not for long. The unit’s two senior detectives, Arthur Bryant and John May, are pressed back into service after the Speaker of the House of Commons, Michael Claremont, is nearly killed when, in an apparent accident, crates of oranges and lemons fell out of a parked van and toppled onto him. That this incident occurred near St. Clement Danes, a London church linked to those fruits in the old English nursery rhyme, leads Home Office higher-ups to fear that Claremont was targeted. Even as Bryant and May try to figure out how the so-called accident could have been planned, more assaults echoing the nursery rhyme occur, all fatal. Fowler again tests his leads with a bizarre series of crimes while devising a satisfying resolution. This long-running series remains as vital as ever.
This groundbreaking anthology of contemporary horror stories from around the world is an irrefutable testament to the international popularity of horror fiction as a form of literary expression. These 21 tales, most appearing in English for the first time, range in approach from the classic gothic (Spanish author Pilar Pedraza’s “Mater Tenebrarum”) to psychological horror (Hungarian Attila Veres’s “The Time Remaining”), physical horror (Finn Marko Hautala’s “Pale Toes”), quirky surrealism (Ecuadorian Solange Rodríguez Pappe’s “Tiny Women), and dark absurdist satire (Dane Lars Ahm’s “Donation”). Peruvian author Tanya Tynjälä riffs on Greek myth in “The Collector” while Bathie Ngoye Thiam pulls from Senegalese folklore in “The House of Leuk Dawour” and Yvette Tan employs elements of Filipino legend in “All the Birds.” Among the book’s outstanding selections are Swedish author Anders Fager’s “Backstairs,” in which a psychotherapist horribly misinterprets the terrifying reality underlying a patient’s dreams, and “Down, in Their World” by Romanian Flavius Ardelean, which translates the folk legends of Transylvania into a tale of subterranean nightmares. Jenkins and Cagle cast their net wide to cull stories that would distinguish any compilation in which they appeared. This book is a must for horror fans and the start of an exciting new series.
Tursten’s spellbinding third crime novel featuring Det. Insp. Embla Nyström picks up eight days after the end of 2019’s Winter Grave, which closed with Embla receiving a late-night phone call from her childhood best friend, Lollo, who disappeared 14 years earlier. Suspected abductors were Gothenburg gangsters, the Stavic brothers—Milo, Luca, and Kador. When a cousin of Embla’s calls for help to solve a murder in one of his rented guesthouses, she’s shocked to find the victim is Milo. A second jolt comes when she learns that Luca was killed nearby on the same night. Challenged to solve the murders, Embla anxiously seeks the whereabouts of Kador, who has vanished in Croatia. The stabbing of a teenager at a nightclub thickens the plot. Aided by various police officials, including Irene Huss, Tursten’s other series lead, Embla seeks to uncover the truth about what happened to Lollo. The action includes a spectacular chase sequence, a bombshell twist that turns the cases around, and an explosive firestorm. This stunning page-turner is unarguably the best in the series.
The powerful eighth book from Gizzi (The Archeophonics) reckons with a sense of futility. The first of four sections, “Lyric,” makes up more than half of the book, its short lines appearing to float on the page. In the opening poem, “Speech Acts for a Dying World,” the speaker declares that he is “done/ with the poem as a vehicle/ to understand violence,” though Gizzi’s writing often seeks sense in disorder. In the second section, “Garland,” Gizzi repeats words and phrases (“on the stoop,” “ongoing,” “Euclid sings,” and “smeared gold”) in the last lines of poems, which become the first words of the next poem, forming a kind of garland. The third section, “Nocturne,” includes a nine-part prose poem, “Ship of State,” which considers mortality and time’s passage: “a local boneyard sleeping time away... the open landscape we face together.” In the last section, “Coda,” the speaker admits “A particular blur/ attended my mind/ from end to end.// These feelings/ of futurelessness.” The ethereal yet confident poems in this book deliver their satisfying reckoning without a hint of sentimentality.