The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Timothy Brennan, Libby Hubscher, and Sergio Olguín.
In 1952, traumatized WWII vet Benjamin Gold, the hero of Cohen’s triumphant debut, is handling routine cases as a struggling gumshoe. Before the war, Gold worked as a lawyer at a white-shoe Cleveland law firm with connections to his wife’s wealthy family, the Forsythes. When he was put into a psychiatric ward after the war, he was fired and his wife divorced him. Now he’s consulted by Judith Sorin, whose father, Maury, was known as the local Clarence Darrow before he was gunned down in a stickup by a drug addict who was himself fatally shot soon afterward by an off-duty cop. Though the authorities consider Maury’s murder solved, his daughter is convinced he was deliberately targeted for death by Gold’s former in-laws. Judith believes her father was retained by someone with dirt on the Forsythes and was murdered as a result. Gold agrees to investigate, despite the lack of solid leads, and soon gets in over his head. The crisp prose and rich characterizations elevate a standard hard-boiled plotline. Fans of classic PI novels will hope for more from Cohen.
This remarkable anthology collects positive perspectives on what happens after one dies, using fiction, nonfiction, mythology, autobiography, and other genre approaches. Some pieces are educational: Laura Ketcham’s “Peat, Bone, Oak” explains bog mummies, and Karoline Grønvik’s sumptuously drawn guide to Victorian mourning etiquette showcases veils and jet brooches. Others are personal: Danielle Chuatico shares her Filipino family’s celebration of All Souls’ Day, while Casey Gilly’s “Funeral in Foam,” drawn by Raina Telgemeier, shares her experience secretly scattering her father’s ashes at his favorite amusement park. Fictional pieces range from drama to fantasy to science fiction tales that envision high-tech funeral customs. One of the book’s visual standouts, “Inanna’s Descent into the Underworld” by Ahueonao, retells a Sumerian myth about mourning. The witty, manga-style “Third Option” by A. “Miru” Lee, meanwhile, finds representatives of the Christian and Korean Buddhist afterlives pitching to a Korean-American who believes in both. (“I mean, just the same clouds and ambrosia all day, every day?”) The editors tackle a huge and daunting subject with aplomb, resulting in a volume that embraces death as a concept with due complexity. The hefty work is diverse enough—in subject matter, mood, art, and representation of cultures and perspectives—to offer something for every open-minded reader.
Olguín’s stunning sequel to 2019’s The Fragility of Bodies finds Buenos Aires reporter Verónica Rosenthal vacationing in the province of Tucumán, where she ends up traveling with two young women she meets from abroad, Italian Petra and Norwegian Frida. At one point, the three attend a party they’re invited to in a small town. Verónica leaves the party with an attractive man without telling her new friends, and decides to resume traveling on her own. Days later, she learns that Petra and Frida have been raped and murdered, and resolves to find their killers. Meanwhile, a hit man is threatening Verónica, and Federico Córdova, her powerful lawyer father’s protégé, arrives in Tucumán to protect her. Federico also rescues some local officials from arrest in a drug-smuggling case, which Verónica later ties to Petra and Frida’s murders. The clash between Federico’s doomed desire for a romantic relationship with Verónica and her quest for revenge adds emotional tension. Olguín exposes copious examples of moral bankruptcy en route to the devastating ending. Readers will eagerly anticipate the third and final volume.
The Caribbean island of Saba provides the beachy backdrop for Hubscher’s beautiful debut, a poignant, emotionally authentic story of sisterly bonds and unexpected love. Marin Cole’s younger sister, Sadie, a globe-trotting photojournalist, returns from an assignment looking tired and suggests a restorative sisters’ weekend on an island paradise. Marin, who’s been overly cautious since the death of their mother 12 years ago, reluctantly agrees, unaware that Sadie has an ulterior motive for the trip: get Marin out of her comfort zone. Sadie pretends to miss their flight, sending Marin off on the adventure without her, having already enlisted the help of Lucas Tsai, owner of the resort they’re booked into, to help uptight Marin find the fun by coaxing her into exploring the island. Lucas, who’s reeling from the recent death of his father, agrees to Sadie’s plan—but he never expected to fall for Marin. Sadie, meanwhile, struggles with health issues she’s keeping secret from her sister. The title suggests a breezy island rom-com, but Hubscher doesn’t shy from heavy topics, resulting in a story that is as likely to elicit tears as laughter. This is sure to tug at readers’ heartstrings.
Brennan (Borrowed Light: Vico, Hegel, and the Colonies), professor of comparative literature at the University of Minnesota, shines a light in this meticulous account on the intertwined personal, professional, and political lives of professor and public intellectual Edward Said (1935–2003). Said’s best work, Brennan argues, emerged from his conviction that “the humanities have political consequences.” The author surveys the mentors who influenced Said’s thinking, among them “eccentric critic” R.P. Blackmur and Harry Levin (a “sociologist and economist who scandalized academia”), and the works that played a recurring role in Said’s writing, such as Georg Lukacs’s History and Class Consciousness (Said “Had been frustrated for some time that Lukacs was not widely known in the Arab world”) and Jean-Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness (which Said used to “expose the fundamental weakness of literary studies at the time”). A rich overview of Said’s academic career features detailed treatments of his major texts (including Beginnings, Orientalism, and The World, the Text and the Critic), and Brennan goes into detail as well on his subject’s fraught connection to the Palestine National Council, and his role as a celebrity. Brennan’s work will be invaluable reading for students of Said or the postcolonial critical movement his work sparked.
Photographer Ellison and cartoonist Kassai’s innovative account of the lives of impoverished children in the Central African Republic employs photography, sequential art, and documentary filmmaking to extraordinarily moving effect. The pair document the lives of children working in diamond mines, doctors who administer hundreds of malaria tests per day, and young girls whose friendship defies ethnic enmity. Photographs of their subjects are juxtaposed with, and seamlessly move into, comics narratives that relay and contextualize their reports. “I told him I stole only because I was hungry,” captions a photo of a boy aiming a slingshot at the camera, which morphs into a comic showing the boy running from a shopkeeper with his raised fist holding a belt. Kassai’s visuals are marvelously intimate—with only a few artfully deployed brushstrokes, he conveys everything from the slumped weariness of a homeless child to the clenched consternation of a Doctors Without Borders field coordinator. The book also includes a QR code link to a video, and the mixing of mediums succeeds at immersion, rather than coming off as gimmicky. Ellison and Kassai don’t look away from the brutality or beauty found in Central African life in this remarkable collaboration.
In this trenchant analysis, Boston Globe columnist and former Paulist priest Carroll (Constantine’s Sword) argues the sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic church isn’t rooted in a few bad priests, but rather a profoundly corrupt system in which a small group of men wield enormous power over others. Over centuries, Carroll writes, the church’s views on gender and sexuality developed in tandem with its desire to protect clerical power, allowing for a “male-supremacist” system stacked against Catholics (often women) who tried to claim or share that power: “The malignity of that clericalism has been laid bare in recent years by the scandal of priests sexually abusing children.” Carroll also includes his own story to effectively show the varied ways this “ecclesiastical pyramid” engenders abuse. As a priest during the Vietnam War, he writes, he came to believe that jingoistic American bishops were providing the government “an excuse to reject the conscientious objector claims of Catholic boys.” Unable to stop what he saw as abuse, and unwilling to be part of perpetuating it, he left the priesthood. Despite it’s significant criticisms, the book encourages despairing Catholics to think of themselves as conscientious objectors—and to fight for what remains good and true about their faith. This persuasive, provocative work will be a must-read for any practicing Catholic.
The enthralling second epic fantasy in Martin’s Outlaw Road duology sees unlikely allies working together to end inequality in Moquoia. Following the events of Sunshield, Lark, the Sunshield Bandit, has had her world turned upside down; the former slave and current outlaw now knows that she’s actually the long-lost Moquoian princess. But after helping Prince Veran rescue Tamsin, an Ashoki court singer, from imprisonment, by staging her murder, Lark has been framed for the very crime she helped to fake, and she and Veran are forced to flee across the desert. Tamsin was jailed for spreading antislavery sentiment through the royal court and her tongue was split by her captors. Her singing days behind her, she must learn a new way to communicate if she hopes to spread her message and end slavery. The endearingly flawed characters, immersive details of Lark and Veran’s travels through treacherous terrain, and epic battles faced both on the run and in the royal court keep the pages flying. This is a pitch-perfect finale.