The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Fiona Davis, Christopher Golden, and John Darnielle.
Davis (The Lions of Fifth Avenue) returns with the captivating story of a missing diamond and the history of New York’s Henry Clay Frick House, before and after it became a museum. Veronica Weber travels from London to New York in 1966, where she works as a model on a photo shoot at the Frick Collection. After a spat with the photographer, Veronica fears she has ruined her chance for a lucrative modeling career. Then she discovers a set of papers in the museum that may provide clues to finding a rare pink diamond owned by Henry Frick, which went missing in 1919, and asks for help from archivist Joshua Lawrence. In a parallel narrative set in that year, Lillian Carter, a once sought-after artists’ model, takes a job as private secretary for Henry’s daughter, Helen, hoping to finance a move to Hollywood to work as an actor. As Veronica and Joshua continue their search for the missing diamond, Davis illuminates Lillian’s role in a long-kept Frick family secret. Davis smoothly combines fact with fiction, and offers beautiful descriptions of the family’s art collection. The colliding narratives and comprehensive descriptions of the historic mansion make for Davis’s best work to date.
Bestseller Golden’s eerie, inventive latest (after Red Hands) takes readers on a hair-raising adventure through frozen Siberia. After working on a ghost-hunting TV show, documentarian Felix Teigland is eager for a more substantial project. His new goal is to record daily life along the Kolyma Highway, a road hewn through the Siberian wilderness by prisoners in Stalinist Russia that passes through Akhurst, the coldest inhabited place in the world. But when Teigland and his cameraman, Prentiss, reach Akhurst, they find the settlement abandoned save for a catatonic young girl, and it becomes clear that something is gravely wrong. Desperate to uncover the mystery of Akhurst’s abandonment, Teigland and Prentiss are thrown headlong into a tense game of cat and mouse with a mysterious shaman lurking on the edges of the settlement. They have something the shaman wants, and he will stop at nothing to get it. Golden’s prose is taut and undeniably unsettling, exploring the dark recesses of the Siberian landscape. Indeed, the unforgiving environment is just as grave a threat as the shadowy shaman. Golden is writing at the top of his game.
In this riveting metafictional epic, Mountain Goats singer-songwriter Darnielle (Universal Harvester) flays the conventions of true crime to reveal the macabre and ordinary brutality behind sensationalized stories of violence. True crime writer Gage Chandler has spent the last five years living in the “Devil House” in Milpitas, Calif., where he’s been working on a book about an unsolved murder that took place there in 1986, during the height of the Satanic Panic. Interspliced with Gage’s investigation are long excerpts from one of his previous books, The White Witch of Morro Bay, which recounts the gruesome end for two teenage boys who broke into their teacher’s apartment. Gage’s multilayered narrative of the Devil House murders slowly builds from conjecture to the victims’ ventriloquized voices, lending itself well to Darnielle’s themes about the artifice of the genre: “Formalities, when carefully tended, quietly congregate to make form,” Gage notes. This masterwork of suspense is as careful with its sharp takes as it is with the bread crumbs it slowly drops on the way to its stunning end. It operates perfectly on many levels, resulting in a must-read for true crime addicts and experimental fiction fans alike.
Mandanipour (Moon Brown) skillfully fuses the poetic and the brutal in this complex and intense collection. The care and humanity of his voice adds poignancy to plots anchored by violence. Many of the stories feature animals: an elusive leopard is at the center of “The Color of Midday Fire,” about a deep friendship rooted in war. In “Shadows of the Cave,” the mysterious baker Mr. Farvaneh declares that “man became man when he withdrew from the animal kingdom”; and the shadow of vicious stray dogs haunts the narrator of “Seven Captains.” While the turmoil and danger of everyday life in Iran are the backdrop, Mandanipour focuses on the personal struggles of the characters and their hardscrabble lives. The harrowing title story charts the slow disintegration of a man wounded in battle, who seems oblivious to the activity around him. These haunting, urgent works are as nuanced and provocative as the lives they depict, and they defy easy categorization and neat takeaways, as reflected in an enigma offered up by the narrator of “Shadows of the Cave,” first published in 1985: “Meanings, often contrary to common perception, are the image of their own meaninglessness.” Prolific in Iran though relatively new to U.S. readers, this author deserves greater attention.
In this immersive and eye-opening biography, Bancroft Prize winner Brown-Nagin (Courage to Dissent) places the groundbreaking legal and political career of Constance Baker Motley (1921–2005) in the context of the civil rights and women’s rights movements. Raised in a large, working-class, West Indian family in New Haven, Conn., Motley’s intellect and drive inspired a local philanthropist to pay her way through college and law school. After graduation, she took a job as a law clerk at the NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund under Thurgood Marshall, where she was passed over for promotion and had to push to receive equal pay, even as she played an integral role in arguing Brown v. Board of Education and other landmark civil rights cases before the Supreme Court. After serving in the New York state senate and as Manhattan borough president, in 1965, Motley became the first Black woman confirmed to the federal judiciary and presided over noteworthy gender discrimination cases, including a lawsuit filed by a Sports Illustrated reporter against the New York Yankees for denying her access to the locker room to interview players. Brilliantly balancing the details of Motley’s professional and personal life with lucid legal analysis, this riveting account shines a well-deserved—and long overdue—spotlight on a remarkable trailblazer.
For two decades, many people have viewed Ellery Hathaway only as the sole survivor of serial murderer/kidnapper Francis Coben, as revealed in Schaffhausen’s excellent fifth installment of this superior series (after 2021’s Every Waking Hour). Ellery’s rescue at age 14 by FBI agent Reed Markham has affected all aspects of her life, from home security measures to her career as a Boston police detective. To try to free herself from her past, she recently ended her relationship with Reed that began the year before. Now, Coben, responsible for the mutilation deaths of at least 17 young women, has a deal—he’ll confess where he buried eight other women if Ellery visits him in prison. Ellery agrees, but the meeting has some surprising consequences. The author highlights Ellery’s emotional state and the grief of the families desperate to know what happened to their loved ones as the suspenseful plot builds to a stunning finale. The chilling Coben, who shows that pure evil can lurk behind a handsome face, makes a memorable villain. Readers will be eager to see what happens next.
Novelist Pollack (The Only Woman in the Room) delivers an insightful gaggle of essays about her life, largely through the lens of being an American Jewish woman. With wry intellect, she reflects on coming of age in New York’s “Borscht Belt” in the 1960s with her “soulmate,” a parakeet named Ish Kabibble; wistfully mourns the summer waitressing job where, at 16, she learned more about herself than what went into Howard Johnson’s “lumpy” milkshakes; explores such universal dilemmas as dating via apps as an adult (“If you tell me you are six feet tall, and when you show up you are five foot two, you know what I am going to think you are? A liar”); and ruefully laments the harsh realities of growing older (“Here is what it is like to be in your sixties. You lie in bed wondering if anyone will ever see your breasts again”). Together these essays underscore Pollack’s knack for wringing humor from the mundane, successfully striking at the paradoxical ways in which “sex and birth (and love) can be beautiful as well as ugly, wondrous as well as painful, enticing and mysterious as well as frightening and repulsive.” This is a hoot.
This masterly thriller from Kukafka (Girl in Snow) opens on death row in a Texas prison, where Ansel Packer is scheduled to be executed by lethal injection in 12 hours. However, Packer, who’s killed multiple women across the country, including in Texas and New York, isn’t worried. That surprising attitude is accounted for by the early revelation that he befriended one of the prison guards and is plotting a last-minute escape. Flashbacks, starting with Packer’s birth to a 17-year-old mother in 1973, trace his path from childhood to what seem to be his final hours. He grew up with an abusive father and began killing and mutilating animals when he was three. Those sections alternate with passages from the points of view of his mother, who was also abused, and of a New York State police investigator devoted to getting justice for Packer’s victims. Kukafka skillfully uses the second-person present tense to heighten the drama, and toward the end she makes devastatingly clear the toll taken by Packer’s killings. Megan Abbott fans will be pleased.