Our favorite books coming out this week include new titles from Julia Seales, Peter Moore, Shungiku Uchida, and more.

A Most Agreeable Murder

Julia Seales. Random House, $27 (336p) ISBN 978-0-593-44998-1
Screenwriter Seales’s exceptional debut focuses on the Steele family of Swampshire, England, where women strictly adhere to a multiple-volume guide that offers rules including “Ladies must not be annoying or persistent.” It’s the early 19th century, and the Steeles have three daughters, the eldest of whom, 25-year-old Beatrice, harbors a frightful secret: she loves to solve crimes. None of the daughters can inherit the family’s estate—it can only go to a man—and Mr. Steele’s penchant for practical jokes has led his vile cousin, Martin Grub, to declare him insane, paving the way for Grub to take over the property. The family’s only hope rests on one of the daughters receiving a marriage proposal from a wealthy bachelor they meet at the annual Stabmort Park ball. After one of those bachelors dies during the festivities, Beatrice teams up with private detective Vivek Drake to solve the crime. The intricate plot races along at a sprightly pace, and Seales delights with her sharp humor and accomplished sense of narrative control. Jane Austen fans will be enthralled. Agent: Rachel Kim, 3 Arts Entertainment. (June)

Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness: Britain and the American Dream

Peter Moore. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $35 (592p) ISBN 978-0-374-60059-4
Historian Moore (Endeavour) offers a rich and immersive intellectual history of the American Revolution focused on its roots in Enlightenment era Britain. At the center are six interconnected figures who embodied the “complex” relationship between England and its colonies in North America and whose ideas influenced the famous phrase “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness” in the Declaration of Independence: founding father Benjamin Franklin, who spent much of the period in London, where he felt it was “his particular, peculiar destiny to be making America’s case alone”; journalist Thomas Paine, whose pamphlet Common Sense “advocated for independence and nothing else”; lexicographer Samuel Johnson, a skeptic of “modern, progressive, Whiggish society” who argued that the colonists “wanted Britain to have dominion without authority, and for them to be subjects without subordination”; radical politician John Wilkes, whose slogan in the 1760s was “Wilkes and Liberty!”; republican sympathizer Catharine Macaulay, whose History of England would be more celebrated in America than Britain; and London printer William Strahan, whose friendship with Franklin was sorely tested by their differences of opinion over the proper relationship between the colonies and the Crown. The portrait of Franklin and Strahan’s relationship is especially well done, and Moore’s fluid prose is infused with the “boisterous” excitement of the era, when “people knew they were living at a loaded moment in history.” This is a pleasure. (June)

Minami’s Lover

Shungiku Uchida, trans. from the Japanese by H. Paige. Fantagraphics, $29.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-68396-760-6
Uchida’s classic manga, first serialized in the underground Japanese magazine Garo, sketches the outline of a cute rom-com fantasy, then digs into murky psychological territory. Chiyomi, a high school girl, has gone missing, and only her boyfriend, Minami, knows the truth: she has inexplicably shrunken to six inches high and is living in his bedroom. The young couple reaffirm their love and even work out a sex life of sorts, but Chiyomi’s reduced stature inevitably alters their relationship. Minami feeds his girlfriend, sews tiny clothes, figures out ways for her to use the toilet and take a bath, and haltingly develops empathy: “She’s so tiny, yet... she’s a real person,” he marvels. As time passes, however, he begins to tire of having to care for a vulnerable doll-woman. Their situation becomes a funhouse-mirror fable about the responsibilities and anxieties that come with a committed relationship. Uchida’s loose, rounded art feels effortlessly appealing; she seems to delight in drawing the winsome, often-nude Chiyomi and her miniature accessories. Darkly funny, sexually frank, and unexpectedly heartbreaking, this slippery parable defies expectations at every turn. (June)

A Thread of Violence: A Story of Truth, Invention, and Murder

Mark O’Connell. Doubleday, $29 (304p) ISBN 978-0-385-54762-8
In this true crime gem, journalist O’Connell (Notes from an Apocalypse) recounts a year he spent interviewing one of Ireland’s most notorious killers. Socialite Malcolm Macarthur came from landed gentry: confidants described him as unfailingly polite and fond of silk bow ties. But in 1982, with his inheritance dwindling, he planned to rob a bank and murdered two people in pursuit of a car and a gun for the task. After pleading guilty, making headlines, and serving almost 30 years in prison, Macarthur was released and went on to a quiet life in Dublin. O’Connell manages a fascinating portrait of his deliberately elusive subject: “There were places he would much rather have been, but he had done what he had done,” he writes of Macarthur’s attitude toward his time in prison. “The murder had, in a sense, originated in his refusal to relinquish a life of leisurely learning and reading;... in incarceration, he had found something strangely like this freedom.” Swirling together dogged reporting with questions about the media’s coverage of crime, O’Connell manages a gripping account that casts a skeptical eye on its own genre. Even readers put off by profiles of killers will be piqued. Agent: Amelia Atlas, ICM. (June)

Invisible Son

Kim Johnson. Random House, $18.99 (416p) ISBN 978-0-593-48210-0
In February 2020, after spending two months in a juvenile correction facility for a crime he didn’t commit, 17-year-old Andre Jackson is finally on his way home. His probation officer insists that Dre has been given a new lease on life, but Dre is worried about what his grandparents will think of him upon his return to the family’s rapidly gentrifying corner of Portland, Ore. Still, Dre is determined to clean up his reputation, which involves confronting his best friend Eric Whitaker, who allowed Dre to take the fall for Eric’s crime. He quickly learns that Eric is missing, and Eric’s sister Sierra—Dre’s first love—doesn’t understand why no one, not even their white adoptive parents, is looking for him. As Dre embarks on his own investigation, societal conflicts—including Covid and protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd—and Sierra’s parents’ increasingly suspect behavior, complicate matters. Smooth pacing and anticipatory tension imbue this hard-hitting mystery with a chilling atmosphere. Via Dre’s contemplative voice and a timely setting, Johnson (This Is My America) balances intrigue with socially conscious ruminations on systemic and environmental racism, and the power in reclaiming one’s narrative. Ages 14–up. Agent: Jennifer March Soloway, Andrea Brown Literary. (June)

Little, Crazy Children

James Renner. Citadel, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-0-8065-4255-3
Who killed Ohio teen Lisa Pruett in 1990? Philosophy of Crime podcaster Renner (True Crime Addict) casts convincing doubt on the case’s official theories in this superior real-life page-turner. After midnight on September 13, the Shaker Heights police received a 911 call from teenager Dan Dreifort, who reported that his girlfriend, Pruett, hadn’t shown up at his home. Soon after officers responded, Pruett’s body was found in a nearby yard. Dreifort, who had recently returned home after his father had him committed to a psychiatric ward, was initially a suspect: berries found on his front steps matched those on a bush near Pruett’s body, and a potential murder weapon was found in his bedroom. Ultimately, though, Dreifort faced no charges. Instead, police focused on Kevin Young, a local teenager with a history of antisocial behavior (he’d called in a school bomb threat once, and he was often unkempt in public). In 1991, Young was indicted for Pruett’s murder; he was acquitted at trial the following year. Renner does a meticulous job casting doubt on the prosecution’s case against Young and using the authorities’ dismissal of Dreifort to help identify a more likely murderer, spinning original interviews and reviews of official records into a vivid and disturbing account of a rush to judgment that left Pruett’s brutal murder unsolved. True crime aficionados of all stripes will devour this. Agent: Yishai Seidman, Dunow, Carlson & Lerner. (July)

Art Thief: A True Story of Love, Crime, and a Dangerous Obsession

Michael Finkel. Knopf, $28 (240p) ISBN 978-0-525-65732-3
In this masterful true crime account, Finkel (The Stranger in the Woods) traces the fascinating exploits of Stéphane Breitwieser, a French art thief who stole more than 200 artworks from across Europe between 1995 and 2001, turning his mother’s attic into a glittering trove of oil paintings, silver vessels, and antique weaponry. Mining extensive interviews with Breitwieser himself, and several with those who detected and prosecuted him, Finkel meticulously restages the crimes, describing the castles and museums that attracted Breitwieser and Anne-Catherine Kleinklaus, his accomplice and romantic partner; the luminous oils and sculptures that caught Breitwieser’s eye; and the swift, methodical actions he took to liberate his prizes. According to Breitwieser, his sole motive was aesthetic: to possess great beauty, to “gorge on it.” Drawing on art theory and Breitwieser’s psychology reports, Finkel speculates on his subject’s addiction to beauty and on Anne-Catherine’s acquiescence to the crimes. The account is at its best when it revels in the audacity of the escapades, including feats of misdirection in broad daylight, and the slow, inexorable pace of the law. It’s a riveting ride. (June)

Little Monsters

Adrienne Brodeur. Avid Reader, $28 (320p) ISBN 978-1-982198-10-7
Memoirist Brodeur (Wild Game) sets this shimmering novel in the “white-hot mess” of summer 2016. Adam Gardner, a stodgy and sleepless oceanic research scientist on Cape Cod, is not looking forward to his upcoming 70th birthday. In a decisive moment, he stops taking his lithium—prescribed for his bipolar disorder­—in hopes that without the medication he will unlock the secret to how whales communicate with each other. Brodeur alternates Adam’s story with those of the son and daughter he’d raised on his own after his wife died prematurely. Ken is a shrewd businessman and political hopeful hobbled by his pomposity, while Abby is a struggling artist. Both are highly esteemed by their father. By the time of Adam’s birthday party, he’s become newly inspired and “hyperaware” of his life and surroundings. What was supposed to be a normal family event crumbles beneath the weight of hidden animosities, secrets, lies, and buried childhood trauma, all of which play out amid the festivities. Sound character development and a keen sense of place add to Brodeur’s astute portrayal of the turbulence between the siblings and their spouses, and the prose renders Adam’s magical thinking with precision (“Adam felt certain that every book he’d ever read, every piece of art that had ever moved him, every conversation, creature, curiosity, and concept he’d encountered in his lifetime would align like cherries in the slot machine of his mind”). With this intricate story, Brodeur distinguishes herself as a novelist of the first rank. (July)