The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Mette Ivie Harrison, Terry Miles, and Jamie Ducharme.
Aryan (Battle Mage) takes an unlikely band of heroes on a nail-biting trek into a frozen world in this impressive fantasy, the first in the Quest for Heroes series. The legend of Kell Kressia is celebrated throughout the Five Kingdoms. Kell, initially an unwanted tagalong with the land’s greatest heroes as they set out to kill the Ice Lich that brought a killing winter down upon their world, is the one who beheaded the Lich and returned as the expedition’s only survivor. But Kell harbors deep guilt over the secret that his success was pure luck—and that his martyred fellows were all horrifically flawed. Now 10 years later, a new threat rises in the Frozen North, and Kell is the natural choice to put it down. He reluctantly takes up the mission, joined by a small band of warriors and misfits, each with secrets of their own. Hunted by humans and horrors, they face reckonings with Kell’s guilt and their world’s past. Packing in an epic’s worth of action and feeling, this thought-provoking fantasy argues that even the most vicious monster battles are less harrowing than the struggles within men’s souls. This is a knockout.
Seemingly benign coincidences become clues to a mind-bending scavenger hunt in Miles’s outstanding debut technothriller, set in the world of his podcast of the same name. Protagonist K’s first experience with the underground, alternate reality game known as Rabbits resulted in a friend’s death—and nearly his own as well. But when his parents died soon thereafter, gaming became his escape, and Rabbits his obsession. The game, which is shrouded in secrecy, sends players chasing after wild conspiracies—and it’s said to be manipulated by “something out there watching from somewhere else, staring into our world from an infinite darkness.” Now a new round is starting and a billionaire rumored to be one of the few-ever winners reaches out to K for help, telling him that the game is broken and, if it goes unfixed, it could spell the apocalypse. K and his girlfriend, Chloe, must enter the game, following the clues to fix whatever’s gone wrong. But as an increasing number of players die or disappear, will K and Chloe be next? Miles masterfully combines mystery, danger, and scientific theory to bring the game to life until readers are just as caught up in searching for the next clue as the characters themselves. It’s a wild ride and it proves impossible to put down.
Harrison’s heart-wrenching fifth Linda Wallheim mystery (after 2018’s Not of This Fold) finds Linda, the wife of an LDS bishop in Draper, Utah, drawn into the role of amateur investigator by the oldest of her five grown sons, Joseph, who teaches Sunday School in nearby Ogden. Sabrina Jensen, a 15-year-old who regularly babysits for Joseph and his wife, has disappeared, but her parents appear unconcerned about her whereabouts. Linda, a self-described busybody who can’t resist helping anyone in need, throws herself into searching for Sabrina, who she eventually learns was the victim of a terrible crime committed by “good Mormon boys.” Linda winds up trekking the meaner streets of Salt Lake City in her effort to save Sabrina. Meanwhile, she struggles with the strictures of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and her fraught relationship with her husband, with whom she’s in marriage therapy. Harrison adroitly raises various ethical issues as the suspenseful plot builds to a devastating climax. Those looking for a nuanced character study will be rewarded.
Hetherington weaves a story of trauma and neglect into the mystical world of a traveling circus in her lovely debut. The narrator, who calls herself Mouse, was born to two circus performers who wanted little to do with her. Mouse’s upbringing was largely left to the rest of the circus community, who treated her “more like a pet than a beloved child.” Then one particularly bright star took a special interest in Mouse, the orange-haired Serendipity Wilson, who taught her to read and to walk a tightrope—leading Mouse down a path to become “the greatest funambulist who ever lived.” Now Serendipity’s own child has gone missing. In an attempt to piece together what happened to the lost child, Mouse recounts her traumatic and complicated past while also revealing the history of the circus and its performers. The story unfolds through a series of interviews, letters, and diary entries, all maintaining a light, lyrical tone reminiscent of Erin Moregenstern’s The Night Circus. Hetherington pulls in readers with a riveting mystery and a candid narrator who never shies from the darkness in her tale. The result is a dreamlike delight.
First published in 1938, this smart, stylish debut from Seeley (1903–1991)—the Mystery Writers of America’s inaugural director—finds 26-year-old divorced copywriter Gwynne Dacres unemployed after an embarrassing typo slips past her into the newspaper. To stretch her savings until potential employers forget the gaffe, Gwynne trades her apartment for a room in a converted mansion owned by Harriet Garr—an older woman who seems extraordinarily paranoid about tenants snooping through her things. Gwynne’s quarters are pleasant, but she frequently feels like the place is somehow aware of her every move. When a string of unsettling crimes occur in and around the house, Gwynne resolves to let the Gilling City police investigate. Then Mrs. Garr dies under suspicious—and gruesome—circumstances, prompting Gwynne to team up with roguish ex-reporter Hodge Kistler to probe their fellow lodgers’ histories and alibis. Secrets abound, studding Seeley’s multilayered mystery with red herrings. Like her tenacious heroine, Seeley’s writing showcases intelligence and a razor-sharp wit. This exceptional reissue is certain to win Seeley a whole new generation of fans.
Bradatan, religion editor for the Los Angeles Review of Books, and Simon, a staff writer for The Millions, collect 26 superior recent essays representative of “a New Religion Journalism emerging to cover issues of faith with the same literary panache as a Didion or a Talese.” The featured writers don’t shy away from personalizing thoughts, asking questions about faith and meaning in the context of current events, or displaying “the full ambiguity and ambivalence of belief.” In “Why I Love Mormonism,” philosopher Simon Critchley explores the persistence of anti-Mormon prejudice among those who decry intolerance of followers of other religions. Emma Green’s powerful “Will Anyone Remember Eleven Dead Jews?” explains why preserving artifacts from tragedies such as the 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre matters. Other standouts are Jennifer Ratner-Rosenhagen’s probing essay on the legacy of Robert Pirsig’s Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and a piece by Joel Looper on the problematic opining of political commentators who assert which contemporary political positions a deceased theologian might support. The high quality of the selections suggests that an annual volume would be welcome.
An artfully constructed puzzle and dry humor lift Montclair’s excellent third mystery featuring professional matchmakers and amateur sleuths Iris Sparks and Gwen Bainbridge in post-WWII London (after 2020’s A Royal Affair). The Right Sort Marriage Bureau gets its first client of color in the form of Simon Daile, a native of Nyasaland, a British colony where Gwen’s father-in-law owns plantations. Simon came to England years before to study advanced agricultural techniques that he could then share with his countrymen. The war derailed his plans, and Simon, who lacks the funds to continue his education, intends to settle down in England with his white spouse, who shares his Christian faith and openness to travel. Gwen believes Simon hasn’t been honest with them, a suspicion enhanced after she gets evidence that he’s been stalking her. The subsequent shooting murder of an unidentified African and an abduction that strikes close to home raise the stakes. Montclair’s feisty leads continue to develop as psychologically plausible characters. Phryne Fisher devotees will clamor for more.
Christy Award winner Austin (If I Were You) shines in this excellent tale of three women who struggle to survive WWII in the Netherlands. Lena de Vries and her two young daughters are keeping the family farm going while her husband and son are away at war. In addition to protecting her family, she also cares for the refugees she's hiding from the Nazis. Lena's oldest daughter, Ans, moved to Leiden shortly before the war, eager to leave behind her rural life and her faith. After the fighting begins, she joins the Resistance, putting her on the opposing side of her boyfriend, Erik—a Dutch police officer now working for the Nazis—and leading her to discover she needs her faith more than ever. Miriam Jacobs is a Jewish woman on the run from the Nazis. As a young wife and mother, she leaves everyone she knows behind in hopes of keeping her baby alive. As the three women work to evade and break the Nazi grip on the Netherlands, Austin skillfully portrays the dangers they face as they struggle to survive. This is a must-read for fans of WWII inspirationals.
Journalist Ducharme charts the meteoric rise, subsequent missteps, and resulting misfortunes of e-cigarette company Juul in her brisk and thorough debut. Juul started as a graduate design project in 2005 by cofounders James Monsees and Adam Bowen; their aim was “to change what it meant to consume nicotine.” It quickly exploded into a multibillion dollar start-up with the launch of the small, sleek Juul e-cigarette. Ducharme describes questionable company decisions: employees conducted “buzz-testing” by vaping different concoctions in order to find the most potent and addictive nicotine solution, and a social media campaign mimicked decades-old cigarette company tactics when it aimed to “ ‘own the early adopter’/‘cool kid’ equity” and may have led teenagers to use the product. When it became apparent that tens of thousands of teenagers were, in fact, using Juul, the company continued to borrow from the Big Tobacco playbook by creating a health curriculum for schools. Its reputation was further damaged by the appearance of a mysterious lung ailment related to vaping that sprang up in 2019 (though the cause was determined to not be tied to Juuls). Ducharme presents an evenhanded retelling of the company’s scandals up to the point, in 2020, when Monsees and Bowen left. Fast-paced and impressively researched, this detailed account sings.
Biographer Canellos (Last Lion) intertwines in this original and eye-opening biography the lives of Supreme Court justice John Marshall Harlan and his rumored half-brother, Robert Harlan, who was born a slave. Appointed to the court by President Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877 “as a kind of human olive branch to the South,” Kentucky-born Harlan was the lone dissenting voice in the Civil Rights Cases of 1883 and Plessy v. Ferguson in 1896, decisions that established the legal precedent for enforcing racial discrimination and segregation. Canellos contends that Harlan’s egalitarian impulses were informed by growing up alongside Robert, the rumored son of Harlan’s father and an enslaved woman, who made a fortune in the California Gold Rush and became a political power broker in Cincinnati. The second half of the book examines the cases that defined Harlan’s judicial legacy and their lasting impact on issues ranging from income tax to civil rights; Canellos notes that Harlan’s dissent in Plessy became a touchstone in Thurgood Marshall’s fight to reverse decades of racial discrimination. Written in lively prose and enriched with colorful character sketches and a firm command of the legal issues involved, this is a masterful introduction to two fascinating figures in American history.