The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Robert Freeman Wexler, Robert Dugoni, and Jerome Charyn.

The Silverberg Business

Robert Freeman Wexler. Small Beer, $17 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-61873-201-9

Steeped in the early history of Texas’s statehood and laced with eerie portents of supernatural horror, the outstanding latest from Wexler (The Painting and the City) impresses with its originality and inventiveness. In 1888, a Jewish private detective who goes by the name of Shannon travels from Chicago to Victoria, Tex., to investigate the disappearance of New Yorker Nathan Silverberg, who was sent with donor funds to buy land on the Texas coast for a settlement of Romanian Jewish refugees. Shannon discovers that Silverberg was first swindled, then murdered by a pair of con men, one of whom—a gambler named Stephens—wears an ornate ring with magic powers. When Shannon pursues Stephens, the ring’s magic transports him to an otherworldly “scratch land” populated by skull-headed beings whose rituals—involving card games and strange dancing—shape a cosmic context for catastrophic events that unfold in the human world. Wexler keeps his twisty plot refreshingly unpredictable and endows his characters—even the non-talking skullheads—with vividly realized personalities that enliven his surreal, atmospheric tale. This weird western packs a wallop.

What She Found

Robert Dugoni. Thomas & Mercer, $15.95 trade paper (366p) ISBN 978-1-5420-0832-7

Bestseller Dugoni’s first-rate ninth police procedural featuring Tracy Crosswhite (after 2021’s In Her Tracks) hands the Seattle homicide detective a cold case with threatening professional and personal implications. Twenty-five years earlier, newspaper reporter Lisa Childress vanished after going to meet an anonymous informant in a deserted parking lot. Now, Tracy is approached by Lisa’s daughter with a plea to look into the files again. Tracy, moved by her devotion to her own family, accepts the daunting task of finding the missing woman. When Tracy examines the cases Lisa was investigating, she becomes increasingly uneasy at how the criminal activities of a rogue unit of the police could connect with Tracy’s own dearest friends and most trusted mentors in the department. Even when the mystery of Lisa’s disappearance is miraculously resolved, it’s clear that no one is going to come out of this investigation untested or unscathed. Dugoni convincingly details Tracy’s methodical but creative approach to this tangle of guilt and denial, as well as showing her empathy for the people involved. Readers will eagerly await Tracy’s next outing. 

Big Red: A Novel Starring Rita Hayworth & Orson Welles

Jerome Charyn. Liveright, $28 (256p) ISBN 978-1-324-09133-2

Charyn (The Perilous Adventures of the Cowboy King) plausibly recreates another chapter in American history in this affecting and searing portrait of Silver Screen superstars Rita Hayworth and Orson Welles. Rusty Redburn, “an actress who couldn’t act, a dancer who couldn’t dance, a singer who couldn’t sing,” struggles to make ends meet in Los Angeles. She takes a job in the publicity department of Columbia Pictures, tasked with digging up dirt on directors and actors, including those employed by the studio. Her adeptness in the role leads studio head Harry Cohn to plant her in the household of Hayworth and Welles to spy on them while working as their secretary. Redburn finds the assignment challenging, especially after she becomes aware of the shy, insecure personality Hayworth’s assured exterior conceals. She sympathizes more and more with her quarry as she learns of Hayworth’s past as a victim of abuse by Hayworth’s own father and of her desire to improve herself intellectually to be a better match for Welles. Charyn offers rapid-fire dialogue and slapstick action (“So it’s a bit of blackmail,” Orson says at one point, “lunging” at an adversary though he “wasn’t much of a gladiator with his big flat feet”) along with affecting character development. It’s a rewarding paean to some of cinema’s greats. 

Fox Creek

William Kent Krueger. Atria, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-9821-2871-5

In Edgar winner Krueger’s outstanding 19th mystery featuring PI Cork O’Connor of Minnesota’s Tamarack County (after 2021’s Lightning Strike), Cork is tending the grill at his burger joint when he’s approached by a stranger who introduces himself as Louis Morriseau. Louis wants the PI to find his wife, Dolores, who he believes is having an affair with Henry Meloux. Cork immediately knows something is wrong, because his friend Henry, an Ojibwe healer, is more than 100 years old. Henry is indeed with Dolores, who’s having a cleansing sweat under the guidance of Cork’s wife, Rainy, who’s also Henry’s great-niece. Dolores later confirms that the stranger is not her husband, Louis, who has been missing. Henry uses his highly developed sense of mysticism to lead Dolores and Rainy deep into the Boundary Waters wilderness to escape two killers pursuing the women. Meanwhile, Cork and Dolores’s brother-in-law, Anton, a tribal cop, follows the killers. Krueger skillfully blends an evocative look at nature’s beauty and peril with Native American lore. Not just regional mystery fans will be enthralled.

The Very Secret Society of Irregular Witches

Sangu Mandanna. Berkley, $16 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-43935-7

A misfit witch finds her place in the world in this utterly enchanting fantasy from Mandanna (A War of Swallowed Stars). Witch Mika Moon has never felt like she belonged; as an orphaned child, she was raised by a controlling older witch named Primrose and educated by a succession of nannies, each of whom was whisked away before they could realize Mika’s power. She’s never told anyone her secret, but as an adult she takes a risk by posting videos online in which she “pretends” to be a witch. It’s all harmless fun—until retired actor Ian Kubo-Hawthorn recognizes her as the real deal. He invites her to Nowhere House, home to a found family working together to raise three young, untrained orphan witches. The children’s unchecked magic has become impossible to contain, and Ian recruits Mika to become the trio’s live-in magic tutor. But not everyone is pleased with the arrangement: “devastatingly handsome” Jamie Kelly, the house librarian, is hyperprotective of the children, and despite the immediate heat between him and Mika, he’s determined not to let her melt his icy exterior. Mandanna crafts a cast of winningly quirky characters, each with their own part to play in Mika’s path to belonging. The masterfully shaded relationships between Nowhere House’s residents give rise to plenty of touching moments sure to tug on readers' heartstrings. This charming romantic fantasy is a gem.

Democratic Justice: Felix Frankfurter, the Supreme Court, and the Making of the Liberal Establishment

Brad Snyder. Norton, $45 (1,056p) ISBN 978-1-324-00487-5

Georgetown law professor Snyder (A Well-Paid Slave) takes the full measure of Supreme Court justice Felix Frankfurter (1882–1965) in this multidimensional portrait. Along the way, Snyder illuminates the anticommunist Palmer raids of 1919 and 1920, the prosecution of accused terrorists Sacco and Vanzetti, the fight to implement the New Deal, the internment of Japanese Americans during WWII, Brown v. Board of Education, and more. Paying close attention to Frankfurter’s influence as an adviser and talent scout for Franklin Roosevelt and other Democratic presidents, Snyder suggests that the justice’s greatest contribution to liberal democracy may have been to help guide many of his former clerks and Harvard Law School students, including secretary of state Dean Acheson and Kennedy adviser Richard Goodwin, into public service. Light is also shed on the rivalry between Frankfurter, who firmly believed “that the powers of Congress and the president trumped those of the Supreme Court,” and justices Earl Warren, Hugo Black, and William O. Douglas, whom he accused of being “judicial supremacists.” Occasional criticism of Frankfurter’s decisions, including his upholding of the military-ordered exclusion of Japanese Americans from the West Coast, is softened by Snyder’s support for his subject’s commitment to judicial restraint. The book’s prodigious research impresses, offering valuable insights into the deliberations and power plays behind landmark cases and major legislation. This is the definitive biography of a towering judicial figure.

A Continent Erupts: Decolonization, Civil War, and Massacre in Postwar Asia, 1945–1955

Ronald H. Spector. Norton, $40 (560p) ISBN 978-0-393-25465-5

Historian Spector (In the Ruins of Empire) examines in this authoritative and often enthralling account how East and Southeast Asia became “by far the most violent region of the globe” in the decade after WWII. Drawing on multilingual sources from China, Korea, Vietnam, and elsewhere, Spector details how Allied leaders sought to reassert control over their prewar territories in massive military campaigns that were animated by Cold War rivalries and often devolved into savage civil wars between indigenous groups “who held vastly different visions of their nation’s postcolonial future.” This process began in September 1945, just weeks after Japan’s surrender, with the Dutch in Indonesia, the French in Indochina, Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists in China, and the Americans in Korea confronting local insurgencies empowered by the humiliating collapse of colonial regimes under Japanese attack. Spector provides comprehensive and captivating accounts of clashes less familiar to American readers, including the “Dutch Dien Bien Phu” in Java and the Chinese civil war’s Huaihai Campaign, which Mao Zedong called “China’s Gettysburg.” Vivid profiles of military and political leaders and luminous accounts of the French Foreign Legion versus the Viet Minh in Indochina and U.S. Marines against Chinese “volunteers” in Korea keep the pages turning, despite the wealth of detail. This sweeping survey of the bloody wages of decolonization astounds.