The pick of our favorite books coming out this week include new titles by Judith Thurman, Sabrina Imbler, and Jane Smiley.

A Left-Handed Woman: Essays

Judith Thurman. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $30 (416p) ISBN 978-0-374-60716-6
In this rewarding collection, Thurman (Cleopatra’s Nose) brings together a remarkably varied collection of her New Yorker essays. She tackles the politics of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s daughter, Rose, in “O Pioneers!”; Rachel Cusk’s “power to dazzle and to condemn” in “World of Interiors”; and reading Dante during the pandemic in “Asylum Seeker.” There’s a wealth of her fashion coverage—“Darkness Wearable” covers the life and career of Alexander McQueen, known for his breakthrough, 1995 “Highland Rape” collection, while “Radical Chic” is a look at Miuccia Prada’s designs, which feature her “heroines” “fastidious from the waist up but wanton from the waist down.” Thurman’s longer essays are often her strongest, as her knack for incisive summary allows her to sweep authoritatively across broad subjects, as in “Maltese for Beginners,” a look at the world’s hyperpolyglots, a handful of language savants who speak at least 11 tongues fluently and are often left-handed. But small gems jump out, too, such as Thurman’s piece on Betty Halbreich, a personal shopper at Bergdorf Goodman: “Mothers send Halbreich their teenage daughters, often for the same reason that my mother enrolled me in driving school.” Masterfully avoiding solipsism and repetition, the author approaches each topic with a fresh eye. This solidifies Thurman as a master of the form. (Dec.)

How Far the Light Reaches: A Life in Ten Sea Creatures

Sabrina Imbler. Little, Brown, $27 (272p) ISBN 978-0-316-54053-7
In this captivating debut, science writer Imbler shines a light on the mysterious sea creatures that live in Earth’s most inhospitable reaches, drawing parallels to their own experience of adaptation and survival. In “My Mother and the Starving Octopus,” Imbler describes octopus brooding—a process during which a female starves and withers to death while protecting her eggs—and uses it as a poignant launching point to delve into the ramifications of their mother’s disordered relationship with food. In “Pure Life,” Imbler considers the yeti crab, marveling at how it survives atop hydrothermal vents, little islands of heat on the ocean floor, and recounts their own experience craving closeness: “I wanted communities that warmed me until I tingled.” Science, race, and the act of writing are at the core of the deeply personal “Hybrids,” in which Imbler describes their fixation on a butterflyfish that was the offspring of two different species and dissects their changing experience writing about race. Imbler’s ability to balance illuminating science journalism with candid personal revelation is impressive, and the mesmerizing glints of lyricism are a treat. This intimate deep dive will leave readers eager to see where Imbler goes next. (Dec.)

A Dangerous Business

Jane Smiley. Knopf, $28 (224p) ISBN 978-0-525-52033-7
Pulitzer Prize winner Smiley (Perestroika in Paris) spins a remarkable story of the California gold rush and a pair of sex worker sleuths who track down the culprit behind a series of disappearances. After 21-year-old Eliza Cargill Ripple’s husband is killed in a bar brawl, she goes to work in the efficiently run and well-guarded brothel of beneficent madam Mrs. Parks. It’s Mrs. Parks who says the “risky business” of prostitution is a “dangerous” one, but so is, for these characters, simply being a woman. Eliza’s customers are a mix of the young and old, wandering sailors, adulterous husbands, judges, and lawyers. One day, Eliza establishes what she terms her life’s “ first true friendship” with Jean MacPherson, a colleague who services “reticent” women and often dresses as a man. Most of the characters are transplants from back east who’ve landed in town with new names and new identities, and when several of them—all women—disappear, Eliza and Jean become a formidable duo of amateur sleuths whose deductive skills were gained by reading Edgar Allan Poe (especially “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”). Harnessing’s Poe’s character Dupin’s “train of logic,” the women suss out the most likely culprit and hatch a cleverly devised trap. The vivid historical details and vibrant characters bring Smiley’s setting to glorious life. This seductive entertainment is not to be missed. (Dec.)

Judas 62

Charles Cumming. Mysterious, $27.95 (494p) ISBN 978-1-61316-339-9
The main action of Cumming’s ambitious sequel to 2021’s Box 88 opens with the assassination in Connecticut of 77-year-old Saul Kaszeta, a former Russian general. Kaszeta “had been a source for BOX 88, a top-secret Anglo-American spy agency, for the final nine years of his military career.” To Lachlan Kite, a career BOX 88 agent, this appears to be a reprisal hit carried out by the FSB, and it brings up a highly personal memory for Kite—his successful 1993 exfiltration of Yuri Aranov, a bioweapons scientist. Flashbacks provide a gripping account of Aranov’s exfiltration, which launched Kite’s BOX 88 career and earned him a lifelong enemy, Mikhail Gromik, a Russian intelligence officer who tried to prevent Aranov’s defection. Kite realizes that both he and Aranov are in danger—their names are on the JUDAS list, “targeted for reprisal assassinations by Moscow.” In a tour de force of tradecraft and suspense set in Dubai, the book’s second half follows an intricate plan to ensure Aranov’s safety and neutralize Gromik. Cumming does a superb job creating portraits of people, eras, and places. This powerful spy thriller should win the talented author new fans. Agent: Luke Janklow, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Nov.)

The Big Bundle: A Nathan Heller Novel

Max Allan Collins. Hard Case Crime, $22.99 (304p) ISBN 978-1-78909-852-5
In MWA Grand Master Collins’s superb 18th Nathan Heller novel, (after 2020’s Do No Harm), the PI crosses paths with Robert Kennedy and Jimmy Hoffa. It’s 1953 in Kansas City, Mo., when millionaire Robert Greenlease retains Heller’s services after his six-year-old son, Bobby, is kidnapped and ransomed for $600,000. Greenlease makes the payment, but the kidnappers delay returning the child. Heller uses his underworld contacts to try to get a lead on Bobby’s whereabouts by attempting to trace the marked bills used for the payoff, though he fears that the boy is already dead. Flash forward to 1958. Heller is working both for Hoffa, the corrupt Teamsters leader, and Kennedy, then chief counsel for the Senate Rackets Committee, who’s looking to nail Hoffa. With half of the ransom never accounted for, Kennedy hopes Heller can help him prove it ended up in the Teamsters Pension Fund. Heller’s search for the money and the truth behind Bobby’s abduction proves perilous. Collins again artfully uses a real-life crime, one now obscure but headline-making in the 1950s, as the springboard for a crackerjack plot. This is another standout in a consistently good series. Agent: Dominick Abel, Dominick Abel Literary. (Dec.)

A History of Fear

Luke Dumas. Atria, $27.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-9821-9902-9
Did the devil really make him do it? That question haunts Dumas’s stellar debut, a complex whydunit. American Grayson Hale, a University of Edinburgh postgraduate student, has been convicted of murdering a colleague, Liam Stewart, whose strangled corpse was found in a loch months after his disappearance. Hale confessed, but claimed he had been under the influence of the devil. Following Hale’s apparent suicide in prison, journalist Daniella Barclay, who covered the case, obtains access to the murderer’s memoir. Barclay presents Hale’s own account of the events preceding the murder, which starts with his meeting a mysterious man who offers him much needed money if he agrees to help write a book on the history of the devil in Scotland. Despite misgivings over his employer and several false starts, Hale agrees, only to become trapped in a nightmarish world where he’s harassed by winged fiends and seems to have become a catalyst for violence in others. Vivid prose enhances the twisty plot; Liam’s Scottish accent is “melodic yet underpinned by something hard and jagged, like clear water flowing over a bed of pointed rocks.” Admirers of Andrew Pyper’s The Demonologist will be riveted. Agent: Maria Whelan, InkWell Management. (Dec.)

Roses, in the Mouth of a Lion

Bushra Rehman. Flatiron, $27.99 (288p) ISBN 978-1-250-83478-2
Rehman beautifully conjures in her stellar debut a Queens, N.Y., Pakistani American community and a girl’s coming to terms with her identity. As children, Razia and her friends bounce between houses under the watchful eyes of Pakistani aunties and loll about in backyards overgrown with roses, sunflowers, and grapevines, as well as weeds, old sofas, and rusty cars. The scenes brim with the pluck and tumult of young friendship while also portraying the uneasy racial balance that the first-generation children navigate in 1980s Queens. In the summer, of ’85, Razia and her friend Saima secretly collect cans to scrounge up money, defying their parents. When treated with disdain by employees at the collection center, Razia realizes why they were told to stay away from it. Back at school in the sixth grade, a group of mean girls descends upon Razia and her friend Taslima, shouting, “Pajama People!” While acutely aware of how her Muslim faith differentiates her, Razia finds comfort and beauty in her heritage, connecting her “like a kite string” to everyone she loves. Razia happily coexists among cultures, excelling at reading the Quran and harboring an intense crush on George Michael, until she gains a spot at a competitive high school in Manhattan. There, she falls in love with a girl, forcing her to choose between her true self and her family. A distinctive and infectious voice takes hold of the reader from the first page, where Razia introduces her neighborhood: “the Corona F. Scott Fitzgerald called the valley of ashes... but what me and my own know as home.” This deeply immersive novel heralds the arrival of an exciting new writer. (Dec.)

Blown by the Same Wind

John Straley. Soho Crime, $27.95 (216p) ISBN 978-1-64129-381-5
It’s 1968 in Straley’s excellent fourth novel set in Cold Storage, Alaska (after 2020’s What’s Time to a Pig?), and the remote fishing community deals with an influx of outsiders, including real-life poet and peace activist Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, on leave from his abbey as a result of his antiwar activities; a pair of bigoted sport fishermen; and Boston Corbett, a bumbling FBI agent who has personal reasons for coming to Cold Storage. As the visitors mix with the locals, notably bar owner Ellie Hobbes, questions rise, among them: who’s responsible for the town’s recent series of petty burglaries and thefts? and why are the two sport fishermen suddenly interested in a mummified corpse known as the Old General stored in the bar’s root cellar? Serious crime, when it finally arrives, does so with unexpected violence in the form of murder, hostage taking, and a riveting sea chase during a storm. Readers looking for action will be amply rewarded, but the book’s main appeal lies in the vividly drawn characters and the author’s enchanting descriptions of the Alaskan outdoors. This thoughtful look at the politics and culture of a bygone era should win Straley new fans. Agent: Kerry D’Agostino, Curtis Brown. (Dec.)