The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Junji Ito, John Lurie, Winfred Rembert, and more.
Faye (The Paragon Hotel), who’s written Sherlock Holmes pastiches and historical mysteries, as well as reimagined Jane Eyre as a serial killer, further showcases her versatility with this enthralling riff on Hamlet, set in contemporary New York City. Twenty years after a fire claiming the life of an unidentified victim devastated the New World’s Stage Theatre, its owner, Jackson Dane, dies unexpectedly. Dane posthumously reveals the truth behind his demise in a medium more appropriate to the 21st century: video, having left behind a recording for his son, Benjamin. In it, Dane voices his fears that someone is trying to kill him and points the finger at his brother, Claude, who marries Dane’s widow, Trudy, soon after Dane’s death. Benjamin searches for the truth, aided by his friend and lover, Horatio Patel, and his ex-fiancee, Lia Brahms, whose father, Paul, had run the New World’s Stage. Shakespeare devotees will be impressed at the variations Faye introduces to the play’s plotline, and Faye’s considerable descriptive gifts are on ample display (a sunrise is depicted as having “the palette of an eighties movie where the girl remakes herself by taking her glasses off”). Fans and newcomers alike will delight in Faye’s remarkable achievement.
In this posthumous work, artist Rembert (1945–2021) offers a powerful, unfiltered look at life growing up in Jim Crow Georgia. “This was a time when everybody was above the law—if you were White... they just made up their mind about what they wanted to do with you and that’s what they did,” he recalls of his childhood growing up with his great-aunt. Even from a young age, Rembert was exposed to murders, mutilations, and humiliations designed to break and degrade the Black residents in his town. His artwork vividly showcases harrowing moments in his life, from picking cotton in endless fields to the horrors of being on a chain gang in prison for stealing a car (to escape a “White mob”). Especially graphic is his account of narrowly surviving his own lynching: “They hung me up by my feet in a tree... and stuck me with the knife... I was bleeding like a hog.” Despite his incredible hardships, Rembert highlights the beauty he encountered, such as the kindness of strangers and his wife, Patsy, who encouraged him to “turn my stories into art.” This is a stunning portrait of hope in the face of evil, barbarity, and racism.
Det. Annalisa Vega of the Chicago PD, the strong, multilayered protagonist of this exceptional series launch from Schaffhausen (the Ellery Hathaway and Reed Markham mysteries), is called to a crime scene at the home of Grace Harper, who has been strangled by an ingenious system of knotted ropes. On the walls are photos of women in similar poses, all victims of the Lovelorn Killer, who murdered seven women in the late 1990s, then dropped out of sight. His last victim happens to have been the mother of a childhood friend of Annalisa’s. The police soon discover Grace was part of a group of amateur sleuths who attempt to solve cold cases. Had she come too close to identifying the serial killer, or was she the victim of a copycat? Interspersed with gripping chapters focused on Annalisa’s detective work are extracts from Grace’s journal that offer some tantalizing insights into a murderer’s mind. Excellent fair-play plotting, genuine surprises, and convincing characters make this a surefire winner. Mystery fans are in for a treat.
Ito (the Uzumaki series) retains his crown as manga king of body horror in this time-twisting thriller that expertly blends science fiction and religious occultism. Kyoko Byakuya, a young woman hiking around the volcanic Mount Sengoku in Japan, is drawn to a village covered in golden volcanic glass “hair” that grants the villagers—cultists of an Edo-period Christian missionary—telepathic abilities. Then the volcano erupts and spreads massive amounts of the golden hair over the surrounding area. Kyoko escapes with bizarre powers of her own, and a series of macabre paranormal events leads her, joined by plucky investigative journalist Wataru, around the country. Each chapter holds up on its own as a short horror story, and it’s chilling to watch the tendrils of fate slowly close in on Kyoko and Wataru as the cosmic horror accumulates. Yet, Ito introduces an unexpected note of optimism and light in the climactic action. As the creator notes in an afterword, “the characters might have been moving on their own for me for the first time.” This is a must-read for Ito’s fans, who will be reminded by this truly unpredictable offering that when he’s good, he’s gut-wrenchingly good. (Aug.)
This seductive neo-noir thriller from bestseller Moreno-Garcia (Mexican Gothic) draws on the real-life efforts of the Mexican government to suppress political dissent in the 1970s. Maite, a 30-year-old secretary in Mexico City who feels life has passed her by, escapes from routine by reading the magazine Secret Romance, oblivious to the political upheaval around her. When her beautiful art student neighbor, Leonora, disappears, Maite, with the help of Rubén, Leonora’s former lover, begins a search that takes her into the world of student radicals. Meanwhile, 21-year-old Elvis, muscle for a clandestine, government-funded shock troop employed to suppress student protests, longs for something more and wishes to escape his old life. When Elvis’s boss assigns him to track down Leonora, his search crosses that of Maite, with whom he becomes fascinated. As the two get closer to discovering the reason behind Leonora’s disappearance, they uncover secrets that shadowy forces, both domestic and foreign, will kill to protect. This is a rich novel with an engrossing plot, distinctive characters, and a pleasing touch of romance. Readers won’t be able to put it down.
Strength in solidarity is the prevailing theme of this galvanizing graphic dramatization by Campbell (Baaaad Muthaz) of a real-life clash between residents of Carnegie, Penn., and the KKK in 1923. Cabbriele, an Italian immigrant haunted by the memory of being tormented by a lynch mob (“We done caught us a guinea instead”), joins Irish, African American, and Jewish protestors who aim to upend “Karnegie Day,” a rally of armed Klansmen supported by elements of the local government. His grinding path from Sicily to America helps form the story’s emotional core and frames how he banded together with others to organize a counterprotest, which ended in a brawl that ousted the Klan. “A man without his friends will have nothing but trouble throughout his life,” utters a white working class man to a Black comrade in this effort, neatly summing up Campbell’s theme. Khodabandeh (The Little Black Fish) supplies chilling panels of Klan members in full regalia, including an image of child pulling a miniature noose around the neck of an African American female doll. Campbell reflects in the afterword on how the anti-rally had been largely forgotten as Carnegie—his hometown—developed away from its immigrant roots. Now readers have this emotionally charged record of how hatred born in American forced a community of immigrants and marginalized people to rally and model the best version of their nation’s ideals.
The tennis legend faces off against on-court rivalries and off-court battles for equality in her audacious memoir. King (Pressure Is a Privilege) looks back on her years as a tennis superstar and winner of multiple Grand Slam titles in the 1960s and 1970s; her exploits leading the movement to professionalize women’s tennis with the Virginia Slims tour and win equality with men in tournament prize money; her celebrated 1973 “Battle of the Sexes” match, in which she beat chauvinist figure Bobby Rigg; and her traumatic outing after a former female lover filed a palimony lawsuit, which cost King endorsement contracts. Vivid throughout is King’s passion for the game—“I loved the drama of it... the universe of possibilities that opened up as I drew my racket back, then that split-second pause where everything hangs in the balance as you’re preparing to hit a return”—and her obsessive will to win. She also fervidly speaks on contemporary issues from trans rights—calling out the Women’s Tennis Association for its insensitive treatment of such players as Renée Richards—to gun control (“gun violence has become a human rights crisis”). The result is a lively and inspiring portrait of pressure-cooker play and political upheaval in tennis, from one of its most fascinating figures.
The star of the indie film classic Stranger Than Paradise and the New York jazz and multigenre band the Lounge Lizards recaps his life up to 1990 in this bawdy memoir. His loose-limbed narrative meanders along as he recounts hitchhiking around the country in his teens; immersing himself in bohemian New York in the 1980s as a saxophonist, artist, and filmmaker; winning fame with the Lizards and Paradise, but later struggling to advance his creative agenda in a philistine entertainment industry; and riding a merry-go-round of heroin and cocaine binges. There’s plenty of rancor and score-settling—he accuses Paradise director Jim Jarmusch of stealing his ideas, and compares artist Jean-Michel Basquiat and his “ice-cold stare” to Ugandan dictator Idi Amin—but the harshest judgments are of the “shameful and terrible person” Lurie often found himself to be. By turns comic, pissed off, and desolate, his raffish picaresque captures everything from showbiz highs—“It’s impressive how energetically one can play when standing naked in front of a crowd”—to malaise from living on the road (“I had a couple of White Castle hamburgers. A little white dog came out of the rat’s alley, vomited, and then keeled over and died”). The result is an energetic, raucous reprise of an adventurously offbeat life.
New Yorker contributor Press (Absolute Convictions) investigates in this engrossing and frequently enraging survey the conditions of Americans who perform essential jobs that are “morally compromised” and “hidden from view.” Contending that “the dirty work in America is not randomly distributed, [but] falls disproportionately to people with fewer choices and opportunities,” Press interviews prison guards, military drone operators, oil rig workers, and slaughterhouse employees. In each case, he finds that the desire for lower “costs”—cheaper consumer prices, fewer American casualties in never-ending foreign wars, less government spending—has led to the exploitation of workers. And yet, Press argues, whenever abuses have been exposed, such as the crowded, unsanitary conditions that led to the rampant spread of Covid-19 among slaughterhouse workers, Americans have preferred to believe that “the key moral failures rested with a few reckless individuals... rather than with the exploitative system in which they worked.” Press’s lucid narrative is studded with gut-wrenching scenes, including a congressional hearing about the Deepwater Horizon oil rig explosion in which politicians expressed more concern about the disaster’s impact on native bird populations than the deaths of 11 oil workers. This deeply reported and eloquently argued account is a must-read.
A dangerous new party drug hits the streets of Los Angeles in Westgate’s ambitious debut. Mem, short for Memoroxin, an experimental, shimmering pill, contains a person’s happy memories, which they’ve selected. While Mem is manufactured to help those with Alzheimer’s, trauma, and mental illness, it becomes a hot black-market item thanks to its ability to allow people “to experience a moment as someone else.” Lucien, a flailing photographer, steals his grandmother’s Mem pills in hopes of seeing his deceased mother through the grandmother’s memories. Sophie, an ambitious ballerina and a waitress at Chateau Marmont, also gets hooked on Mem. Both Lucien and Sophie end up in a rehab facility run by the drug’s producers, where they form a deep connection and Lucien feels they’ve met before. When they’re out, they collaborate on a film project inspired by Lucien’s grandmother’s memory. In chapters alternating before and after the rehab stint, Westgate weaves a tight tale of relationships and loneliness in a city populated by people always on the hunt for the next big escape. It’s a captivating story, one that leaves readers wondering if a life scrubbed of pain and real connection is a life at all.