The books we love coming out this week include new titles from Kareem Rosser, C.J. Tudor, and Rosa Brooks.
Rosser debuts with the captivating story of how he came to be a champion polo player after his challenging childhood in West Philadelphia. Rosser details his mother’s battles with addiction, his brothers’ continuous fight to stay out of prison, and his best friend’s murder, which resulted in his own struggles with anxiety and PTSD. In his neighborhood, known as “The Bottom,” drug abuse and gun violence were prevalent, but he found solace in the Work to Ride stables, a local organization which provided children the opportunity to learn how to play polo. The sport, with its ethos of hard work and brotherhood, gave him a vision for how to embrace a brighter future. After earning a spot on the first all-Black interscholastic polo championship team and diligently working on his polo skills, he won a place on the Colorado State University collegiate team and later led them to a national title. Rosser’s prose is restrained but confident as he notes how fortunate he was to have polo in his life, and how he was able to defy expectations as a young Black boy on the polo field. This remarkable and inspiring story shines.
Rarely have the secrets of an English village been used to greater effect than in this tautly suspenseful mystery from Thriller Award–winner Tudor (The Other People). When the Rev. Jack Brooks, a widow with a 14-year-old daughter, Flo, is ordered to fill a sudden vacancy in Chapel Croft, Jack learns that the Sussex village is famous for the burning of its martyrs in the reign of Mary I, two of the victims having been young girls. But it’s not so clear what happened to two teenage girls who disappeared from Chapel Croft 30 years earlier, in 1990, never to be heard from again. Once Jack discovers that her predecessor killed himself, the menace stalking the village becomes a palpable threat. Shifting points of view bring into play a secret from Jack’s past—and when that threat is added to the escalating dangers in Chapel Croft, the tension become nearly unbearable. Tudor expertly doles out the plot twists, some of them small, some sizable, and one so shocking that it turns the entire story inside out. Jack, Flo, and the other fully realized characters and their eventual fates won’t be easily forgotten by any reader.
Brooks (How Everything Became War and the Military Became Everything), a journalist and Georgetown University law professor, delivers a nuanced and revealing chronicle of her experiences training to be a reserve police officer in Washington, D.C. Over the objections of her husband, mother (the writer Barbara Ehrenreich), and law school colleagues, Brooks took a sabbatical and entered the police academy in 2016. She and her fellow recruits—most of whom came from military backgrounds—did push-ups, underwent firearms training, and learned the academy’s central lesson: “Anyone can kill you at any time.” After graduation, Brooks worked 24 hours a month as a patrol officer, mainly in D.C.’s Seventh Police District, “the poorest, saddest, most crime-ridden part of the nation’s capital.” An observant writer with a sharp sense of humor, Brooks vividly sketches her patrol partners and the D.C. residents they encounter, and highlights problems caused by mass incarceration, racial discrimination, and lawmakers turning “trivial forms of misbehavior” into jailable offenses. After completing her training, Brooks helped launch a fellowship program for new recruits to learn about these and other issues. This immersive, illuminating, and timely account takes a meaningful step toward bridging the gap between what American society asks of police and what they’re trained to deliver.
Robuck (The House of Hawthorne) delivers an edge-of-the-seat WWII spy story based on the life of OSS agent Virginia Hall. In March 1944, the American operative slips into Nazi-occupied France to organize and arm a resistance group called the Maquis before the D-Day invasion. Ahead of her mission, Virginia, who has a prosthetic leg, is informed by her London-based handlers that her life expectancy is six weeks. Even so, she must be extra careful. The Germans have already distributed wanted posters for the “Limping Lady” and have been looking for her for two years, since the Lyon network she headed was betrayed by a double agent. Now, on her current mission, she has a score to settle with those who plotted to betray her. The Germans grow more vicious after D-Day, as Allied troops, with help from the Maquis, liberate French towns. Robuck vividly captures Virginia’s internal struggle over her obligation to help win the war and her desire for revenge. Skillfully weaving events from the agent’s past with the tension-filled days and nights of 1944, Robuck creates an indelible portrait of an unforgettable hero.
Angel (Daddy Issues), a lecturer in creative writing at Birkbeck, University of London, delivers four thought-provoking essays on female sexuality in contemporary culture. Though consent is “crucial, and the bare minimum” for sexual encounters, Angel writes, the insistence that women vocalize their desires can work against them in cases of rape or sexual assault and fails to recognize that people don’t always know what they want. Reviewing recent sex research, she contends that studies categorizing women’s desire as mostly responding to men’s “urgent biological drive,” rather than arising spontaneously, “risk turning sexual desire into something towards which women must strive—even when they don’t want to,” and casts doubt on theories about women’s arousal that are based on vaginal lubrication in artificial laboratory conditions. “We should prioritize what women say, in all its complexity,” Angel argues, “rather than fetishizing what their bodies do in the name of a spurious scientism.” By fixating on “yes” and “no,” “consent culture” inhibits the potential for mutual exploration, curiosity, uncertainty, and growth, Angel concludes. Her jargon-free prose and nuanced readings of popular culture and postmodern theory enlighten. Readers will value this lively and incisive inquiry into the sexual dynamics of the #MeToo era.
Lightman (Einstein’s Dreams), a physicist and humanities professor at MIT, returns with a wide-ranging collection of 17 essays that explore the place of humans in the cosmos. The entries cover the nature of infinity, the origin of the universe, the “project to create life from nonlife,” and the meaning of consciousness. In “What Came Before the Big Bang?” Lightman addresses the provocative question of whether there must be a relationship between cause and effect, given that “causality can dissolve in the quantum haze of the origin of the universe.” In “Cosmic Biocentrism,” he wonders whether humans’ very existence has any meaning given “life in our universe is a flash in the pan, a few moments in the vast unfolding of time and space in the cosmos.” In the face of such questions, Lightman is resolutely upbeat; the scarcity of life in the universe, for example, makes him “feel some ineffable connection to other living things,” and he argues that other intelligent beings will share a passion for “making science and art and attempting to take stock and record this cosmic panorama of existence.” Lightman’s ability to craft moving prose while accessibly explaining complex scientific concepts is a rare gift. This collection is tough to put down.
A fictionalized version of terrorist Anders Breivik’s slaughter of 77 people at a Norwegian summer camp in 2011 provides the backdrop for this stunning psychological thriller from McPherson (A Line of Blood). British journalist Cal Curtis, who’s based in Oslo, and his Norwegian wife, Elsa, have been happily married for 17 years. They have raised their teenage daughters, Alicia and Victoria, by a code of stringent moral honesty, but their Scandinavian ideals of fairness, openness, and freedom begin to collapse when Alicia disappears from her summer camp outside Oslo during a terrorist attack. Cal is hopeful that Alicia’s alive, but why is Victoria holding back something about her sister from her parents? Meanwhile, Bror , Elsa’s former lover and the leader of a far-right quasireligious cult, criticizes the way Black police chief Ephraim Tvist is handling the investigation, causing Cal to suspect Tvist’s competence and motives. McPherson dramatically highlights the tensions between Norway’s native and immigrant populations as the plot builds to a devastating conclusion. This powerful, thought-provoking novel deserves a wide readership.
This road-trip fantasia from underground psychedelia artist Panter (the Jimbo series) flips the script on the classic counterculture story of hippies just wanna have fun. The work opens with lavishly drawn stream-of-consciousness riffs on imploding cross-dimensional realities. Beasts speak, robots paint, and dinosaurs shoot light beams out of their hamsa-like heads while blissed-out spiritual travelers drop koans of infallible dream logic (“Art tries to grasp and pass on the cosmic order”). Panter follows that we-are-one vision with a scuzzier story about a band of catlike hippies buzzing on a pharmacopeia of mind-melting drugs. After getting a batch of acid from a Yeti-styled dealer, they head into the desert to further obliterate their senses while being pursued by furious redneck Big Jim. Here, Panter’s loopy yet disciplined artistic approach yields dividends, as the earlier section’s free-form psychedelia creeps back in while remaining yoked to a basic realism, even as language itself breaks down (“Can we soon be home again alive?”). Panter then snaps it all together with an unexpected coda that celebrates “the utopian youth hippie flower-child movement” before lacerating how it “became a dancing bear.” Panter’s painstakingly detailed acid-trip vision offers art comics heads an immersive rabbit-hole experience and sneaky satire on a navel-gazing subculture.
Set in April 1944, Ruggero’s taut sequel to 2020’s Blame the Dead finds Lt. Eddie Harkins, a former Philadelphia beat cop, reassigned to the London branch of the Office of Strategic Services after a stint as an MP. On Harkins’s first day on the new job, he’s dispatched to an alley to examine the corpse of Helen Batcheller, an economic analyst for the OSS. Someone slashed her throat and left her to bleed to death. The absence of one of the dead woman’s shoes suggests that she may have been attacked by a sex fetishist who removed the footwear as a souvenir. Other suspects include Soviet operatives who Batcheller knew were secretly working to plant moles in the British and American governments. These ostensible allies might have silenced her to preserve their subversive mission. The sensitivity of the victim’s work complicates Harkins’s search for the truth. Ruggero recreates the period’s feel, months before the Normandy invasion, while playing fair with the reader. His superior storytelling makes comparisons to James Benn appropriate.