The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Ashley Weaver, Kelly Lytle Hernández, and Chris Bohjalian.
Set during the early days of the Battle of Britain, Edgar finalist Weaver’s excellent sequel to 2021’s A Peculiar Combination continues the adventures of Electra “Ellie” McDonnell and her uncle Mick, who have eschewed safe cracking in favor of more legitimate work. When a young woman’s body washes up on the banks of the Thames with a bracelet locked to her wrist, Ellie is recruited by Major Ramsey, an impassive and exceedingly handsome British intelligence officer, to remove the bracelet from the corpse’s wrist. Together, Ellie and the major soon realize the dead woman was working as a spy for the Germans. Meanwhile, Ellie works with Felix Lacey, a longtime friend and possible romantic partner, to undercover the secrets behind Ellie’s mother’s decades-old conviction for murder. Weaver does a sensational job of evoking 1940 London and populates the story with endearing characters, none more so than Ellie, who’s gutsy, smart, and completely unwilling to be outmaneuvered or left behind when danger presents itself. Readers will hope to see a lot more of Ellie.
MacArthur fellow Hernández (Migra!) explores in this stellar history the legacy of Mexican revolutionary Ricardo Flores Magón (1873–1922) and his magonista movement. Dubbed malos Mexicanos, or “bad Mexicans,” by President Porfirio Díaz, the magonistas and their political party, the Partido Liberal Mexicano, paved the way for the 1910 Mexican Revolution, according to Hernández. Combining exhaustive research with dramatic storytelling, Hernández chronicles Díaz’s seizure of power in an 1876 coup and the ensuing rush of foreign investment that saw U.S. citizens take control of the Mexican railroad, oil, and mining industries. The exploitation of ordinary Mexicans sparked rebellion, and some activists, including Magón, fled over the border to plot Díaz’s overthrow. Hernández vividly details how the “brilliant and ill-tempered” Magón “cultivate[d] the support of Anglo-American radicals” including Eugene V. Debs, while “outrunning and outsmarting” U.S. law enforcement, and paints a harrowing picture of the harsh treatment Mexicans faced in the U.S. Touching on long-running themes in the U.S. government’s relationship with Latin America—including the prioritization of corporate profits over human welfare and the propping up of autocrats in order to protect allegedly vital economic and security interests—Hernández offers a vital reconsideration of American imperialism and the Mexican American experience. This is history at its most elucidating.
In 1964, Hollywood star Katie Barstow and her Rodeo Drive gallerist husband head to Tanzania for a safari honeymoon, along with an assortment of family and friends, in this devastatingly cunning suspense novel from bestseller Bohjalian (Hour of the Witch). The group includes Katie’s psychologist brother and sister-in-law, an agent, a publicist, an actor and her screenwriter husband, and Katie’s costar in a scandalous film. Shepherded by a private guide in Land Rovers in the Serengeti, they take photos of giraffes, elephants, lions, and wildebeests, while a slew of porters and cooks provide such amenities as waterproof canvas bathtubs, a kerosene-powered ice maker, and a sufficient supply of gin and tonic. The idyll for Katie and crew comes to an end after they become the target of Russian mercenaries, who hold them captive in abandoned huts. Worse follows, including fatal snake bites. Bohjalian does a superb job of judiciously rolling out information of how past transgressions may have led to the heart-stopping episodes of chaos and carnage as the shocking, twist-filled plot builds up to the revelation of “the real reasons for the safari nightmare.” This brilliant whydunit is not to be missed.
Mexican Gothic meets Rebecca in Cañas’s stunning debut. After Beatriz’s mestizo father, General Hernandez, is betrayed and murdered in Mexico’s War of Independence, Beatriz marries mysterious widower Don Rodolfo Solórzano, as his estate, the Hacienda San Isidro, seems the perfect escape for Beatriz and her mother. Beatriz’s first sign that something’s off is the housekeeper, who refuses to work without burning copal incense and chalking glyphs on the kitchen door. Then Beatriz is plagued by bad dreams and mysterious, bloody visions. Her sister-in-law, Juana, who shares the estate, insists these are signs that Beatriz is going mad. Beatriz, however, comes to believe that her husband’s first wife was murdered and is haunting the house, and she finds an ally in Mestizo priest Padre Andrés, who’s torn between the folk beliefs of his childhood and his Catholic teachings. To exorcise the house, the pair digs into a past deliberately obscured by those who would kill them if the truth comes out. Cañas clearly knows the genre, alternately deploying and subverting haunted house tropes. The result is a brilliant contribution to the new wave of postcolonial Gothics. Readers won’t want to miss this.
The disappearance of Sophie de Greer, a “superforecaster” who predicts voter reactions to British government policies, drives Herron’s terrific eighth Slough House novel (after 2021’s Slow Horses). Since de Greer might be a Russian plant, two important people want her found: Anthony Sparrow, the prime minister’s slimy enforcer, because he hired de Greer and wants to spare the government humiliation, and Diane Taverner, MI5’s ruthless chief, because she knows Sparrow will blame her if de Greer turns out to be a spy. The actual work of finding de Greer falls to the so-called slow horses of Slough House, “the fleapit to which Regent’s Park consigns failures, and where would-be stars of the British security service are living out the aftermath of their professional errors.” Every piece counts in the intricate jigsaw puzzle of a plot, but the book’s main strength is its dry, acerbic wit (Sparrow is “a homegrown Napoleon: nasty, British and short”). The result is an outstanding mix of arch humor, superb characterizations, and trenchant political observations. The forthcoming Apple TV adaptation of the series is sure to win Herron new fans.
Vo’s spellbinding latest (after The Chosen and the Beautiful) solidifies her position as a force to be reckoned with in speculative fiction. During the golden age of Hollywood’s studio system, names hold tremendous power. If a studio knows a star’s true name, it can control them, so cast and crew alike hide behind pseudonyms. After toiling on movie lots, a young Chinese American woman gets onto the screen by blackmailing a predatory director, earning a meeting with a bigwig where she takes her sister’s name, Luli Wei, as her own. But even after moving into the dorms on a major studio’s lot, casting doesn’t come quickly. Her first big break comes when she’s cast as a siren, and she goes on to make a career of playing monsters. Through these roles, she learns to stand tall as an outsider amid the bright lights and dark magic of Hollywood, loving and losing various female costars and outsmarting the men who seek to overpower her. Vo’s hypnotic prose blends metaphor with magic so seamlessly that reality itself becomes slippery. Her dazzling voice, evocative scene setting, and ambitious protagonist make this a knockout.
Old wounds finally get a chance to heal in Fortune’s spectacular debut. At 13 years old, Persephone “Percy” Fraser spends the summer in Barry’s Bay, Ontario, aka “cottage country,” where she meets Sam and Charlie Florek. Percy and Sam form an immediate bond and, over the next six summers, fall deeply in love—until everything goes horribly wrong. Fortune teases out what happened during that last summer to tear Percy and Sam apart as Percy, now 30, returns to Barry’s Bay for the first time in 12 years to attend the funeral of Sam and Charlie’s mother, a woman she adored. She and Sam, who haven’t spoken since things ended, must finally confront their history and find the courage to accept responsibility for their mistakes. Alternating between the past and present, the story flawlessly conveys the lovers’ growth both together and apart, and the summery setting provides an idyllic backdrop to their path back to each other. Centered on redemption and forgiveness, this sweeping, heartfelt romance proves impossible to put down.
Folk herbalist Beyer offers a Wiccan approach to helping readers “feel at home in nature once more” in her spellbinding debut. With an emphasis on “intimacy, deep knowledge, and sustainability,” the author suggests that witchcraft can foster connection with one’s environment, and to that end she outlines how to grow regionally appropriate plants for rituals and home remedies. Beyer covers how to set up a home garden and highlights some easy-to-grow magical herbs—fennel, for example, helps with digestion and has been used in Italian folklore to ward off evil spirits. For those who would rather forage, the author recommends common herbs and details their folk medicinal and magical applications, such as goldenrod, which some Native American traditions used to treat for bladder issues. Beyer also gives instructions for dozens of magical activities, including charms for love and protection, remedies to ease soreness and treat UTI infections, and spells to boost fertility and spiritually cleanse one’s home. Deep background on herbal uses throughout history and across Appalachian, Native American, Anglo-Saxon, and West African folk medicine traditions sets this volume apart, particularly the illuminating opening section on the history of witchcraft and folk healing. Beyer’s accessible guide bewitches and enlightens.