The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Stephen Hunter, Evan Hughes, and Michael Brooks.

Targeted: A Bob Lee Swagger Novel

Stephen Hunter. Atria/Bestler, $28 (384p) ISBN 978-1-9821-6979-4

In bestseller Hunter’s superb 12th Bob Lee Swagger novel, a determined New York Times reporter wants to interview Bob, who’s 74, about his part in recently bringing down a bad guy known as Juba the Sniper in 2019’s Game of Snipers. Bob, who’s recovering from a bullet wound in his upper body, declines, but after the reporter publishes an article describing Bob’s role, Bob is subpoenaed to testify before a House subcommittee. A confrontational congresswoman, who’s facing a tough upcoming election campaign, leads the hearing, which is held in a Boise, Idaho, high school auditorium near Bob’s home for his convenience. Bob holds his own at the hearing, but eventually the committee charges him with “wanton endangerment” for his behavior during the confrontation with Juba the Sniper. In a battle where “words are bullets,” he’s on the ropes, until a prison bus commandeered by five escaped inmates crashes through the wall of the auditorium and mayhem ensues. The suspense rises as Bob must try to save the lives of the very people accusing him of wrongdoing. With this inventive nail-biter, Hunter sets a new bar for both himself and the genre.

The Hard Sell: Crime and Punishment at an Opioid Startup

Evan Hughes. Doubleday, $28.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-54490-0

Journalist Hughes (Literary Brooklyn) takes a revelatory deep dive into the ignominious history of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Insys Therapeutics, the leadership of which was convicted in 2019 of federal racketeering and conspiracy charges. John Kapoor, the founder of the Arizona company, and others had bribed doctors to prescribe their fentanyl-based pain medication Subsys even when medically unnecessary. Insys also persuaded physicians to delegate seeking prior authorizations for insurance coverage to an Insys contractor, a practice that Hughes notes is tantamount to a kickback (“If you write our product instead of the other one, we’ll pay for the grunt work”).Hughes does an excellent job of illuminating the inner workings of Big Pharma’s malicious practices; for example, it was routine practice for sales reps to document their pitches, and some of those notes referenced lies about the medications being pushed (such as OxyContin being less addictive than other opioids). To avoid legal jeopardy, several major drug manufacturers altered their record-keeping systems so as to eliminate the risk of an employee recording incriminating information. While the arc of this story won’t surprise readers familiar with the recent Purdue Pharma headlines, this is a powerful indictment of abhorrent industry practices. It’s a worthy complement to Gerald Posner’s Pharma: Greed, Lies, and the Poisoning of America.

The Art of More: How Mathematics Created Civilization

Michael Brooks. Pantheon, $28 (336) ISBN 978-1-5247-4899-9

“Our way of life, our institutions, and our infrastructures” were all built on math, writes New Scientist editor Brooks in this savvy study (after 13 Things That Don’t Make Sense). He begins by diligently explaining the basics of algebra, arithmetic, calculus, and geometry, and introducing key figures in math’s history. There’s Pythagoras and Isaac Newton, as well as lesser-known figures such as Claude Elwood Shannon, a pioneer in the information theory that undergirds today’s communication technology, and William Rowan Hamilton, a 19th-century mathematician who was “obsessed with complex numbers.” Brooks uses the work of these thinkers to break down the math behind facets of everyday life: he describes the statistics that underlie life expectancies; the equations that allow scientists to understand the cosmos; and the imaginary numbers that give guitar amplifiers their power. In his introduction, Brooks describes a point when a person hits their “mathematical limit” and gets overloaded, and encourages readers to avoid that feeling by approaching math with a sense of awe. He expertly maintains that spirit throughout and easily shows how, “through maths, we shape the world around us to give ourselves a better experience of being human.” It’s a show-stopping paean to the wonder of numbers.

The Doomsday Mother: Lori Vallow, Chad Daybell, and the End of an American Family

John Glatt. St. Martin’s, $28.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-250-27667-4

This chilling narrative from bestseller Glatt (Golden Boy: A Murder Among the Manhattan Elite) does justice to the case of Lori Vallow, who is accused of plotting the 2019 killings of her 16-year-old daughter, Tylee, and her seven-year-old son, J.J. Vallow became obsessed with the doomsday prophecy of her fifth husband, Chad Daybell, and the couple considered themselves “gods, leading an army of chosen ones to survive the end of world... on a divine mission to rid the world of evil zombies.” After Vallow came to believe that her children were zombies who stood in the way of the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, she allegedly persuaded her brother Alex Cox that evil spirits had taken over the bodies of Tylee and J.J., leading him to kill them and hide their remains on Daybell’s Idaho property. Eventually, after Cox’s death from natural causes, the authorities gathered enough evidence to charge both Vallow and Daybell with murder; a trial date is pending. Despite readers knowing the grim ending from the start, Glatt’s extensive research, including interviews with family members, makes this a white-knuckle page-turner as he traces Vallow’s descent into madness. This definitive look at a case Glatt considers the most “terrifying” of his decades of experience as a journalist is must reading for true crime fans.

Electric Idol

Katee Robert. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $14.99 trade paper (384p) ISBN 978-1-72823-176-1

Robert’s sensational second Dark Olympus romance (after Neon Gods) pairs social media influencer Psyche Dimitriou with hired gun Eros in a thrilling struggle against the forces that rule the futuristic, dystopian city of Olympus. When Psyche impulsively helps Eros, the son of her mother’s rival, Aphrodite, clean himself up after a hit job, a paparazzi shot of the two together sparks speculation of their involvement. The evil, image-conscious Aphrodite, a powerful politician, can’t abide the rumors and demands Psyche’s heart on a platter (literally). But Eros devises a way to protect her from his mother’s wrath: through marriage. If Psyche is his bride, his mother can’t touch her. The sham match quickly gives rise to sizzling sex scenes and genuine emotions, leaving Eros ready to protect Psyche with his life. Eros makes a complicated hero; his willingness to knock off his mother’s foes is off-putting, but, like a fairy tale prince awakened by a kiss, this tortured soul allows love to transform him. Meanwhile, plus-size Psyche’s conviction, feistiness, and passion will inspire and empower readers. Cameos from the first installment’s lovers will delight fans, while the steamy, fast-paced story will have new and old readers alike turning the pages as quickly as possible. This satisfies on every level.

The Tally Stick

Carl Nixon. World Editions, $16.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-64286-098-6

Three English children survive a deadly car crash in the New Zealand wilderness in the affecting and propulsive latest from Nixon (The Virgin and the Whale). In 2010, Suzanne Taylor receives word in London that her nephew Maurice Chamberlain’s remains have been found in New Zealand, proving he lived for several years after his and his siblings’ disappearance in the wake of a 1978 car crash that killed his parents and his infant sister. Suzanne had made frequent trips in the early ’80s in search of the children, and the narrative gradually unfolds the story of what happened as well as the mystery of Maurice’s death, beginning with the crash. The three oldest children survive: Maurice, 14; Katherine, 12; and Tommy, seven. A menacing man named Peters discovers them and takes them back to the farm where he lives and grows marijuana with Martha. The couple puts the children to work, claiming they are too far from town to send for help. Maurice suspects they are lying, and when Martha convinces the increasingly attached Katherine that the children will have to work off the debt of caring for them, Maurice’s foiled escape attempts, harsh punishments, and inability to head off Katherine’s growing attachment to Martha build toward his death. Nixon’s prose is arresting, beginning with a description of the crash (“For a fraction of a moment, the headlights shone east over the forest. Diamonds glittered in the white light”), which generates consistent appeal for the thrilling and emotionally nuanced story. This is electrifying.

Desolation Canyon

P.J. Tracy. Minotaur, $27.99 (320p) ISBN 978-1-250-75495-0

Quirky, damaged characters drive bestseller Tracy’s outstanding sequel to 2021’s Deep into the Dark. LAPD Det. Margaret Nolan is still carrying guilt from a line-of-duty shooting. Afghan War vet Sam Easton’s PTSD is stirred when he hears rifle shots while jogging in Desolation Canyon near Death Valley. Nolan’s mother, grieving the combat death of her soldier son, goes on a spiritual retreat at the wilderness compound of the Children of the Desert. Father Paul, the sect’s charismatic leader, is so outraged that his consort, Marielle, has fled with their daughter that he recruits a cold-blooded killer—familiar with the preacher’s earlier criminal identity as Roger “Snake” Jackson—to help recover his “stolen property.” Meanwhile, Nolan’s investigation into a corpse dumped in the swan pond at the Hotel Bel-Air leads her to confront an ex-KGB crime boss and to ponder how the kidnapping of the murder victim’s son decades ago could have consequences today. All these plot elements come neatly together as the tension builds along with Father Paul’s drug-fueled paranoia. Tracy should win new fans with this vivid, twisty crime novel. 

The Runaway Duchess

Joanna Lowell. Berkley, $16.99 trade paper (368p) ISBN 978-0-593-19830-8

Lowell delivers the goods in her deliciously complex Victorian-era sequel to The Duke Undone. Lavinia Yardley has little choice but to marry the much older Duke of Cranbrook, despite thinking of him as a “nasty old goat,” to salvage her family’s depleted coffers and loss of status following her broken first engagement and her father’s imprisonment for theft. Traveling by train to the duke’s estate and her new home in Cornwall, she meets Neal Traymayne, head of Varnham Nurseries, who mistakes her for Muriel Pendrake, a worldly and widowed botanist he was meant to escort from the station. Desperate to escape her new husband, Lavinia goes along with his mistake, embracing the beauty of Cornwall and the companionship of Neal’s family as she starts to fall for Neal. But can their budding romance survive when Neal learns the truth of her identity? Lowell’s finely wrought characters don’t have it easy when it comes to navigating restrictive Victorian society, but even their most outrageous actions ring true. Readers will be swept away by this entrancing, intelligent romance.