The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Jessica Chiarella, Kristen Radtke, and Claire North.
For more than 20 years, Marti Reese, the narrator of this outstanding psychological thriller from Chiarella (And Again), has obsessively searched for her sister, Maggie, who disappeared from near their suburban Chicago home. Before getting into a strange car, teenage Maggie told Marti, then eight years old, to run. Marti’s all-consuming quest has ruined her marriage and estranged her from her parents, but her true crime podcast documenting her search wins her awards and puts Maggie’s case back in the news. It also catches the attention of ER doctor Ava Vreeland, who approaches Marti about doing a podcast involving her younger brother, Colin McCarty, who was convicted seven years earlier for killing his girlfriend, Sarah Ketchum. Marti has no interest in trying to prove Colin’s innocence, but she is interested in telling Sarah’s story, which has many similarities to Maggie’s. Marti and Ava quickly bond, united by how they were changed by girls close to them who went missing. Surprising twists accent this poignant story about two women, each with a single-minded goal. Chiarella is a writer to watch.
As Radtke (Imagine Wanting Only This) notes at the outset of this gripping graphic investigation, she had no way of knowing, when she began researching isolation in 2016, how on-trend her topic would become. Combining personal narrative with social science, evolutionary biology, and pop culture analysis, Radtke’s work is innovative in form and painfully relevant in content. People who are socially isolated die sooner in numbers that cannot be explained simply by slip-and-falls or unchecked vices, she notes. “We need to feel deeply troubled when we observe minor social shuns so we can correct our behavior,” she says, drawing convincing lines from loneliness to totalitarianism (citing Hannah Arendt) and mass shootings. She devotes a large section to Harry Harlow, whose famous studies of baby rhesus monkeys’ need for affection contradicted early 20th-century messaging that cuddling one’s children was unhygienic. Radtke’s astute observations about social media implicate herself yet extend gentleness to her fellow lonely humans. (For example, Radtke recounts looking down on selfie-takers at an art exhibit only to end up taking one herself.) Somber illustrations range from journalistic to starkly symbolic, in variations on gray that establish a flat and lonely world, making the gradient sunset hues that sometimes burst through that much brighter. As a montage of people’s faces blends together, the effect enacts the book’s hopeful thesis that loneliness can be a catalyst for connection. For a treatise about the perils of being alone, it creates a wonderful sense of being drawn into conversation.
The Brilliant Abyss: Exploring the Majestic Hidden Life of the Deep Ocean and the Looming Threat That Imperils It
Marine biologist Scales (Eye of the Shoal) tours the lightless depths of the ocean and showcases its denizens in this show-stopping work. She begins by pointing out that sunlight can't penetrate below 3,300 feet below sea level, and the average depth of the oceans is 12,500 feet. This zone beyond light's reach "is home to countless unimaginable life-forms," such as deep-diving sperm whales, gelatinous jellyfish, strange colony animals called siphonophores that can reach 150 feet in length, and extremely rare iron-shelled scaly-foot snails. Seamounts, huge underwater mountains that can dwarf their terrestrial cousins, also host a dizzying array of life. Scales stresses the importance that the ocean plays in maintaining human life as a critical part of Earth's climate mechanism and as a potential source of medicines, particularly antibiotics; she also warns of the many ways humanity threatens ocean life, such as overfishing, dumping toxic waste, and mining beneath the sea floor. Scales concludes with a convincing plea for creating "a sanctuary in the deep," an international agreement in which the unexplored depths of the ocean are protected from industry, but open to science. This vivid survey hits the mark as an awe-filled paean to the mysteries of the deep.
World Fantasy Award winner North (The Sudden Appearance of Hope) spins a riveting tale of subterfuge and deadly self-indulgence in this postapocalyptic thrill ride. Ven Marzouki was once a priest whose duties included translating archaic English texts to sieve useful information from the heretical knowledge of the Burning Age, a time of human excess and climate devastation. Ven's working as a bartender when the Brotherhood, a brash, humanist political group, comes for him. Unable to refuse, Ven must translate and verify stolen texts detailing the most dangerous of heresies, among them mortar schematics and military papers on radioactive substances. North's eloquent prose paints a vivid contrast between the overconsumption that led to the Burning Age and the near-utopian present even as Ven becomes ever more deeply involved with Georg, the brains behind the Brotherhood's steady crawl to power. Ven's internal ideological conflict between the Temple's teachings on honoring nature and the Brotherhood's rhetoric of human might leads to a satisfying revelation. Meanwhile, the shifting enmity and companionship between Georg and Ven creates a tense, fascinating dynamic as the Brotherhood gears up for war. North's convincing view of postapocalyptic society captivates, and the political intrigues will keep readers hooked right up until the explosive close.
Dalton (Boy Swallows Universe) delivers a spellbinding saga of survival and transformation in WWII Australia. Before seven-year-old Molly Hook’s mother dies, she makes Molly promise to make her heart as rock-hard as her surroundings—adding that Molly can always find her up in the sky, “where the best gifts come from.” In the first of many fabulist moments, Molly’s grandfather Tom Berry’s gold-prospecting pan appears as if fallen from the clouds; it’s inscribed with riddles that will guide her to an Aboriginal elder, Longcoat Bob, who the family believed had cursed them for Tom’s theft of gold from Bob’s ancestral lands. Molly excitedly takes it home, where her hard-drinking gold hunter turned gravedigger father, Horace, slugs her in the jaw and her uncle Aubrey throws away the pan, behavior Molly attributes to the curse. Five years after her mother’s death, a Japanese bombing raid kills Horace and destroys their house, and Molly flees with Aubrey’s girlfriend in search of Longcoat Bob. Along the way, a stranded Japanese fighter pilot becomes their protector, and the three continue on a quest marked by trials and wonders while being pursued by Aubrey. Dalton provides exquisite descriptions of deserts, waterfalls, mazes of stone monoliths, and Aboriginal cave paintings, and creates a courageous, unsentimental heroine in Molly. This is a wonder.
A pilgrimage in the footsteps of Italy’s national hero grounds a meditation on the country’s character in this soulful historical travelogue. British novelist and Italophile Parks (Italian Ways) retraces the 400-mile-long retreat of revolutionary general Giuseppe Garibaldi from Rome to the Adriatic coast in 1849, during which he lost his army of 4,000 men to desertion, fighting, and capture by French, Spanish, and Austrian forces. His vivid retelling casts the history in a romantic light, as he recounts how Garibaldi held together his volunteers with the dream of Italian nationhood, and the assistance of his magnetic wife, Anita, who died at their journey’s end. Parks weaves in a disenchanted modern counterpoint as he and his partner trudge alongside roads full of roaring traffic and encounter industrial blight next to avant-garde art parks and touristy cafés (“The garibaldini would have been out of town in a matter of minutes, whereas we’re still walking through a suburban haze of carbon monoxide after two and a half hours”). Contrary to Garibaldi’s vision of generous, liberal solidarity, Parks’s Italy often feels atomized, alienated, and resentful of immigrants. Even so, Parks’s elegant, wry prose saves the story from tipping into despair. This gripping account of Italy’s visionary past serves as a revealing window into its clouded present.
Fourteen authors previously represented by their novels in the American Mystery Classics series demonstrate their skills in shorter form in this superior anthology. Cornell Woolrich, best known for his tales of passion and despair, changes gears with the puzzler “The Mystery in Room 913.” Multiple occupants of a hotel room jump out of its ninth-floor window, leaving suicide notes behind, but the house detective is convinced something else is going on. Clayton Rawson perfects hiding a clue fairly in “From Another World,” in which his magician-sleuth, the Great Merlini, must solve a fatal stabbing in a room whose door and window were sealed with paper. In addition to well-known contributors, such as Ellery Queen and Erle Stanley Gardner, Penzler presents memorable tales from the lesser-known, such as H.F. Heard, whose reimagined Sherlock Holmes appears in “The Enchanted Garden,” and Bayard Kendrick, creator of the blind detective Capt. Duncan Maclain, who demonstrates his considerable abilities in “5 – 4 = Murderer.” This sampler is an easy gateway to other volumes in this high-quality series.
Loren’s powerful, uplifting second Say Everything romance (after Yes & I Love You) delves into themes of trauma, consent, and recovery. As a teen, Andi Lockley was exploited and betrayed by someone she trusted, leaving her with PTSD and anxiety. As an adult, she channels her fears into a career as a horror writer and true crime podcaster, but she’s still hesitant to let anyone get close to her. That changes when she meets her new neighbor, Hill Dawson, a retired firefighter coping with his own set of traumas after a career-ending injury. Andi’s worries bring out Hill’s protective instincts, and her gregarious nature encourages him to socialize. Soon, the pair decide to enter into a friends with benefits arrangement, helping each other to overcome their issues with intimacy. But when deeper feelings develop, Andi and Hill must determine if they’re ready to pursue a real relationship. Loren does an impressive job crafting characters who, while scarred both emotionally and physically, are also resilient and relatable. Their connection is never less than believable and satisfying and the scorching yet sensual sex scenes only develop their growth and healing. The result is a couple readers will have no choice but to root for.
The same night that magazine journalist Joan Lurie, the narrator of this superior thriller from Mary Higgins Clark Award winner Goodman (The Sea of Lost Girls), celebrates the publication of her article exposing newspaper tycoon Caspar Osgood as a sexual predator, she’s attacked outside her Manhattan apartment. With a hefty advance for a book based on her story, Joan moves for her safety into the Refuge, an imposing, high-security building uptown, which once housed unwed mothers who were treated as near prisoners by the resident nuns. Osgood commits suicide in the wake of the exposé, leaving his wife, Melissa, in disgrace with insurmountable debt. Looking for revenge, Melissa moves into the Refuge, planning to discredit Joan’s story. Meanwhile, Joan befriends elderly Lillian Day, a longtime Refuge resident, whose tales of her youth resonate with Joan. Joan’s discovery of a link between her book and Lillian raises the stakes. The plot takes many terrifying twists and turns en route to the surprising climax. Those with a taste for the gothic will be richly rewarded.
In 2020’s The Golden Cage, Stockholm housewife Faye Adelheim, who sacrificed her own career for her entrepreneur husband, Jack, who belittled and humiliated her for years, succeeded in destroying his business and framing him for the apparent murder of their daughter, Julienne. Two years after, in Swedish crime queen’s Läckberg’s rip-roaring sequel, Faye, whose cosmetics company, Revenge, has made her wealthy, is living incognito in a tiny Italian village with her mother, Julienne, and Kerstin, her best friend and business associate. But soon rumors disrupt paradise. Jack and another convict escape from prison, women owning shares in Revenge are selling them and threatening a takeover, and a dogged policewoman is reexamining the case of Julienne’s supposed murder. Läckberg intersperses Faye’s struggle to preserve Revenge and her secrets with scalding scenes from Faye’s youth in the town of Fjällbacka, where she saved her mother and herself from her father’s brutal sexual abuse. In the present, Faye enjoys eye-popping sexual adventures and an appealing new lover, David Schiller, while she enlists the loyal support of former female rivals to strike back at her enemies. This tribute to lusty sisterhood is a must for Scandi noir fans.