Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Julia Wertz, Martin Cruz Smith, and Amy Key.

Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story

Julia Wertz. Black Dog & Leventhal, $30 (320p) ISBN 978-0-7624-6825-6
A cartoonist wrestles with sobriety in this forthright, wickedly funny graphic memoir by Wertz (Tenements, Towers, & Trash). While pursuing a career she loves and sharing a Brooklyn art studio with her buddies, Wertz attributes her regular solitary drinking to an introverted disposition. She figures she’s doing okay as long as she doesn’t start gulping before five p.m., even if her sporadic attempts to cold-turkey pause only last an afternoon. But after a health scare and a new kitten fail to impose hoped-for changes, Wertz turns to group therapy and a stay at a rehab facility. What follows is an episodic chronicle of small victories and defeats recounted in a breezily self-deprecating tone, as new habits and coping mechanisms collide with hurricanes, sketchy landlords, a rocky romance with a literal car-crash of a breakup, and the death of a friend. Wertz’s punch lines are as perfectly timed and indelicate as ever, and she’s augmented her trademark candor with probing insight. There are glimpses into Wertz’s childhood trauma, and one of the best supporting characters is her brother, Josh, who has his own addiction demons and whose unorthodox encouragement is a highlight. There’s depth to her panels, too, as the relaxed, lumpy character sketches are integrated into the confident architectural detail of cityscape backdrops. Unvarnished yet buoyant, this recovery memoir presents Wertz at her wry best and is sure to recruit new fans to her scrappy, irreverent diaries of the absurd. Agent: Michelle Brower, Trellis Literary Management. (May)

Independence Square: Arkady Renko in Ukraine

Martin Cruz Smith. Simon & Schuster, $26.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-9821-8830-6
Bestseller Smith’s stellar 10th mystery featuring Arkady Renko (after 2019’s The Siberian Dilemma) finds the maverick Russian investigator working for Moscow’s Office of Prosecution in June 2021. Relegated by his boss to desk duty, he serves as the office’s departmental liaison officer and attends pointless meetings where he’s “neither wanted nor needed.” He gets a chance to exercise his investigative skills when Fyodor Abakov, a bodybuilder who runs protection rackets in the city, asks him to trace his missing daughter, Karina, a violinist in a string quartet. That Karina is a member of an anti-Putin organization, Forum for Democracy, has led Abakov to fear that the government is behind her disappearance. Renko agrees to help, and his inquiry eventually takes him to Ukraine and Crimea in search of leads. His efforts are complicated by several brazen political murders, a new romantic opportunity, and a diagnosis that he has Parkinson’s, which has already affected his balance and energy level. Smith’s reveal about what happened to Karina is surprising, logical, and disturbing. Renko, who made his debut in 1981’s Gorky Park, remains the archetype of an honest cop working for a corrupt regime. Agent: Andrew Nurnberg, Andrew Nurnberg Assoc. (May)

Arrangements in Blue: Notes on Love and Making a Life

Amy Key. Liveright, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-1-324-09173-8
British poet and essayist Key (Isn’t Forever) takes an intimate, idiosyncratic look at single life in her evocative first memoir. Initially spurred by Joni Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue to examine her romantic relationships, Key ended up using the record as a lens through which to examine “so many shades of life.” Lyrics in “My Old Man” about big beds and frying pans prod her to cultivate peace while living alone. At 37, she felt an urgent need to have a baby and considered how and whether to become a mother by turning over Mitchell’s wrenching “Little Green,” which the musician wrote about a previously undisclosed pregnancy. Key describes how struggles with loneliness and singledom can give people “the power to make us the version of ourselves we long for,” and how she eventually found liberation in her solitude by way of Mitchell’s musings. Filled with lyrical turns of phrase, this insightful take on living solo will appeal to poets, dreamers, and anyone marching to the beat of their own drum. It’s a lush and moving memoir. (May)

Shakespeare Was a Woman and Other Heresies: How Doubting the Bard Became the Biggest Taboo in Literature

Elizabeth Winkler. Simon & Schuster, $29.99 (416p) ISBN 978-1-982171-26-1
This sharp debut by journalist Winkler expands on her 2019 Atlantic essay exploring the “messy, ugly dispute” over the authorship of works attributed to Shakespeare. Questioning how a relatively uneducated man from Stratford-upon-Avon could write such learned and feminist plays, Winkler suggests that perhaps “the author was not an uneducated man but an educated woman.” She discusses the numerous female candidates scholars have forwarded, including Mary Sidney, a translator who aspired to create “a body of English literature that could stand next to the great works in Greek, Latin, French, and Italian,” and Emilia Bassano, a poet who advocated for liberty from male oppression. She also surveys male authors believed by some to be the “real” Shakespeare, noting that playwright Christopher Marlowe is a favorite candidate because he died under mysterious circumstances “just weeks before ‘Shakespeare’ emerged.” Winkler doesn’t weigh in on the likeliness of the candidates, but instead uses the controversy to serve up thoughtful meditations on the role of the author, the objectivity of biography, and the limits of scholarly study (“Despite the most heroic efforts of feminist scholars, women of the past will always be, to some degree, ‘missing matter’ ”). Probing and smart, this is sure to stir up lively debate. (May)

I Felt the End Before It Came: Memoirs of a Queer Ex-Jehovah’s Witness

Daniel Allen Cox. Viking Canada, $24.95 (240p) ISBN 978-0-7352-4210-4
Novelist Cox (Mouthquake) examines his break with his Jehovah’s Witness upbringing in these elegant essays. The author probes the controlling dynamics of the Watch Tower Society and the complex repercussions of his “disassociation” from the group after he came out as gay via a “breakup letter to Jehovah” mailed to its elders. “A Library for Apostates” reflects on the author’s insecurities about being a writer after growing up in an anti-intellectual Jehovah’s Witness culture (“The group believes that pursuing worldly knowledge takes followers off the road to Paradise”), while “We Are the Ones Held” unpacks his ruinous alcohol addiction and eventual recovery. “The End of Times Square” recounts the author’s 1998 move to New York at age 22, where he befriended photographer David LaChappelle, became involved in pornography and sex work, and anticipated Y2K absent the Armageddon anxieties of his childhood (“The thing about growing up in a doomsday cult is that it’s always the end of the world”). The author approaches his subject with emotional nuance, and writes with a mix of self-aware humor and deep insight that sets his project apart from other former believer memoirs. This thoughtful rendering will captivate those with ties to the religious group and literary memoir fans alike. (May)

Professor Schiff’s Guilt

Agur Schiff, trans. from the Hebrew by Jessica Cohen. New Vessel, $17.95 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-954404-16-8
Schiff (The Latecomers) delivers a daring post-colonial satire about a professor who inadvertently gets wrapped up in human trafficking in modern-day Tel Aviv. Agur Schiff, 63, tries to collect a debt from a lawyer who, in lieu of money, “gives” Schiff his cleaning lady, an undocumented migrant named Lucile, as “payment.” Schiff is deeply offended, but he immediately falls in love with the wise and beautiful Lucile. He pays her to work as a companion to his wife’s wealthy, 104-year-old step-grandfather, who soon proposes marriage to Lucile, to the lovelorn professor’s dismay. But before there can be a wedding, Lucile’s husband shows up demanding a blackmail payment, and Schiff tips off the immigration authorities. The husband flees, but Lucile is then herself deported. Distraught over losing Lucile, the professor travels to an unnamed West African capital where the shipwrecked remains of his ancestor’s merchant vessel are now in a museum, and where Schiff reckons with his family’s involvement in the slave trade. The author takes a clear-eyed view of the horrors of slavery and its present-day consequences without slipping into didacticism or sacrificing the humor of his protagonist’s absurd actions. It’s a blistering skewering, and as sharp as it is funny. (May)

The Nightingale Affair

Tim Mason. Algonquin, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-64375-039-2
Inspector Charles Field makes a welcome return in Mason’s stellar second historical whodunit (following 2019’s The Darwin Affair). In 1867, Field is working as a private investigator in London when his latest case reawakens a past one. Tory MP William Hythe-Cooper has hired Field to prove his wife, Susan, is having an affair with Jeremy Sims, a political rival. After Field spots Sims fleeing the flat he reserved for his and Susan’s trysts, the inspector finds Susan’s strangled corpse in the flat with a piece of red fabric stuffed in her mouth. This was also the trademark of a serial killer known as the Beast of the Crimea who targeted nurses working under Florence Nightingale in the 1850s; Field was dispatched to Crimea to catch him, which he thought he’d done. The new crime leads Field to wonder whether he’s dealing with a copycat or the original killer. The action alternates between past and present, each switch masterfully heightening the tension. Mason’s superb plotting and well-drawn lead bode well for future installments. Agent: Gail Hoghman, Brandt & Hochman Literary Agents. (May)

The Sorrows of Others

Ada Zhang. A Public Space, $18 trade paper (160p) ISBN 978-1-73637-096-4
Zhang debuts with a remarkable collection that explores the intricacies of Chinese American families. In “Any Good Wife,” a woman makes an effort to assimilate in Tucson, Ariz., in the months after emigrating from China. She gets a perm, listens to rock music, and makes a Jell-O salad for her confused husband (“ ‘The food is trapped?’ he’d asked, wondering if this was a joke or a game. ‘How do I get to it?’ ”). In “Knowing,” a Texas family welcomes an old friend from China who survived the Cultural Revolution, prompting the child narrator to ask what it was like. Her mother, maintaining a strong connection to the past, replies, “You shouldn’t talk of death like it’s the easiest thing in the world.” With methodical pacing and precise details, Zhang locates the reasons why the narrator’s mother often shuts her out. The art student narrator of “The Subject” gains perspective on the quirky behavior of her roommate, an elderly Chinese woman who insists on picking up trash on their street in the dead of winter. The narrator also possesses a fascinating self-awareness, as when she reflects on her reasons to live frugally, which gives her an air of authenticity among her friends (“The hipsters would nod and drink their beers, smug in the idea that there was a real one among us”). Zhang’s crystalline stories ring with moments of surprising truth about her characters’ lives. This will stay with readers. Agent: David McCormick, McCormick Literary. (May)