The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Kaoru Takamura, Charles Saumarez Smith, and Patry Francis.
“Where does all this come from?” asks particle physicist Tonelli in his elegant, accessible English-language debut. The author guides readers through a metaphorical seven days of genesis, a “collective adventure” of scientific exploration stretching from before the Big Bang to the rise of humans on Earth. Tonelli begins with the mystery of time before the Big Bang, making parallels to Greek myth in Hesiod’s Theogony, where “Chaos was first of all.” The author describes astronomer and priest Georges Lemaître’s work on forming the Big Bang theory in 1927, when the idea of an expanding universe disturbed scientists who envisioned one that was a static and unchanging, as put forth by Aristotle. Tonelli covers the formation of atoms, the onset of light, and the distribution of stars in the Milky Way. He also describes how particle accelerators and “super-telescopes” reveal the physics behind elementary particles, stars, and black holes. Tonelli’s storytelling successfully weaves curiosity, Greek mythology, and scientific discovery: “From quantum foam something even more astounding than the goddess of love and beauty will be born: an entire universe.” Already a bestseller in Italy, Tonelli’s lyrical story of creation is sure to ignite the imaginations of American readers.
Le Corre (After the War) brilliantly integrates a mystery plotline into a vivid evocation of a lesser-known period in French history in this enthralling novel, which won the French Voices Prize. For a few months in 1871, Paris was ruled by the Paris Commune, a radical government that controlled the city, until the so-called bloody week in late May, when the French army retook it. The novel opens from the vantage point of three Commune soldiers, led by Sgt. Nicolas Bellec, several days before the start of that combat. As Bellec and his comrades prepare for the ground assault they know is coming, he faces another challenge. A cab driver, “covered in hair, like an animal,” has been kidnapping young women. Bellec’s fiancée, Caroline, becomes one of the unknown abductor’s victims, and the sergeant searches desperately for her, aided by Antoine Roques, who was with the Sûreté before joining the Commune’s efforts. That search continues through the end of the Commune’s reign, giving Le Corre an opportunity to display his gifts at writing tense scenes, with the outcome of both the bloody week and the quest for Caroline unknown. Fans of Armand Cabasson won’t want to miss this one.
Greer Hogan, the smart, self-reliant narrator of Hilliard’s first-rate debut and series launch, used to be an executive at a New York City cosmetics firm, until she realized that she needed a change. “So, I went to the place where I always felt safe and happy—the library. More precisely, library school.” She has recently taken her first job as a librarian in the small town of Raven Hill , where her only friend is Joanna Goodhue, with whom she went to college. The library is housed in Raven Hill Manor, a gothic pile “full of small mysteries and historical oddities.” One night, while insuring that no stray patrons are still on the premises at closing time, Greer discovers Joanna’s lifeless body. Did Joanna fall and hit her head? Everyone, including the police, wants the death ruled an accident. But Greer disagrees and brings her skills as a keen observer to her investigation, tipping off readers when all the clues are in place with more finesse than Ellery Queen. Her carefully doled out backstory actually explains her need to solve the murder. This superior cozy should win Hilliard plenty of fans.
Takamura makes her English-language debut with an excellent crime novel centered on a kidnapping. In 1995, Kyosuke Shiroyama, the head of one of Japan’s leading companies, Hinode Beer, is snatched from his home by a criminal or criminals, who leave a message simply reading “we have your president.” A massive police inquiry ensues, which focuses on ascertaining who might have an axe to grind against the company. The investigators probe a possible connection to events from 1990, when a dentist, after his son died, accused Hinode of improperly denying his child employment. Between that accusation and the abduction, various characters from a wide range of society are introduced, including a truck driver, a lathe operator, a banker, and a disgraced cop, who eventually unite in plotting Shiroyama’s kidnapping. This approach raises the emotional stakes leading up to the crime and its aftermath, though the resolution awaits the second volume. Readers open to delaying gratification will be hooked. Takamura shows why she’s one of Japan’s most prominent mystery novelists.
In an unnamed Croatian city in 2010, reporter Nora Kirin, the heroine of this searing political thriller from Bodrozic (The Hotel Tito), hopes to expose the city’s sleazy government. Instead, she’s assigned to write a lurid piece about a Croatian high school teacher who murdered her brutal husband, a Croatian war veteran, while having an affair with a student, an ethnic Serb. Nora’s own troubled past distracts her from this task. Her father disappeared in 1991, just before a horrifying massacre of Croats by Serbs. As Nora seeks the truth about his fate, she uncovers heinous instances of immorality throughout a city supposedly promoting “peaceful reintegration” between Croats and Serbs. In her effort to get justice for her father, Nora dooms her own love affair. Bodrozic smoothly integrates Nora’s gripping personal story with, as revealed in a translator’s note, the recent history of Vukovar, the author’s native city. Noir fans won’t want to miss this one.
Following a home invasion that leaves Rachel Chavez and her mother feeling unsafe in the Long Island suburbs, they relocate to Brooklyn, and Rachel’s teacher mother takes a job at the Upper East Side’s tony Manchester Prep. Rachel enrolls as a junior but fails to fit in, instead spending her free time bingeing scary movies to work through her trauma. After witnessing a frightening party prank, Rachel tracks down fellow Latino Freddie Martinez, whom she believes to be responsible, and talks her way into joining the Mary Shelley Club, a secret society, cued as ethnically varied, whose members—nerd Freddie, jock Bram Wilding, misanthrope Felicity Chu, and comedian Thayer Turner—share a passion for all things horror. At first, Rachel enjoys the sense of power that accompanies participation in the group’s “Fear Tests”—scenarios staged to terrify their peers. Before long, however, her new friends’ fun takes a sinister turn. This twisty tour de force from Moldavsky (No Good Deed) is at once a gripping teen melodrama, an incisive meditation on fear, and a love letter to horror and the genre’s tropes. Vividly sketched characters, crafty plotting, and an adrenalized pace conspire to captivate and confound readers through the unsettling close.
Former National Portrait Gallery director Smith examines how museums’ architecture and design has elevated the experience of art in this perceptive and generously illustrated volume. Beginning with New York’s Museum of Modern Art, Smith takes a sweeping inventory of contemporary museums worldwide, revealing how funding, leadership, vision, and architecture have transformed the institutions’ meaning and purpose, rendering these spaces “as much about the geography of contemporary cultural and artistic experience as [they are] about the history of the art and culture of the past.” With detailed case studies of venues including London’s Victoria and Albert Museum, which salute more scholarly works, and New York’s MoMA, which demonstrates the “experience of modernity,” Smith considers how museums have changed over the past 80 years and now focus less on the canon than on evolving displays, stimulating viewing experiences, and striking architecture. He further elucidates his points with mini-histories of playful postmodern institutions interested in taking visitors on a “personal, private journey,” among them Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim in Bilbao, Spain, with its transfixing, “free-form design,” and the Broad Museum in Los Angeles, a cavernous structure where art-seeing becomes a “visceral and sensual experience.” Insightful and thought provoking, this work is required reading for cultural historians, art connoisseurs, and museumgoers.
Francis (The Orphans at Race Point) traces the heartbreaking pains of a foster family in this beautifully drawn saga. In small-town Massachusetts in 1959, foster parents Louie Moscatelli, a gruff mechanic, and his reclusive wife Dahlia accept emergency placement of six-year-old Agnes Juniper after she was abused in her previous foster home. After a brief stint with the Moscatellis along with their three other foster children, Jimmy and biological siblings Jon and Zaida, Agnes is placed with a more affluent family, the Dohertys, who want to adopt. But after the Dohertys express dismay about Agnes’s developmental delays and Indigenous heritage, she runs away to the Moscatellis, where she and the other children grow up enduring the community’s scorn as “crummy foster kids.” Three years later, Jon and Zaida’s biological father reappears and takes Jon back to Colorado, cruelly forcing Zaida to choose between joining them and staying with the Moscatellis. Toward the end of the 1960s, Jimmy returns from serving in Vietnam while Agnes is in high school and still living with the Moscatellis, and a frightening person from Agnes’s early childhood reappears, causing a tectonic shift for everybody in the household. The shifting viewpoints and well-rounded characters coalesce to create a tragic and resilient image of an atypical family. This powerful and deeply moving story deserves a wide audience.