Fiction Short Take: Mississippi Burning – Greg Iles

This conclusion to Iles’ three-part thriller on race and the American South is such a slam dunk to be yet another bestseller that I almost skipped mentioning it. But watching my wife immerse herself in all three books over the last couple weeks reminded me what a completely compelling experience this story is.

With three stared advance reviews, Mississippi Blood does right be the fans–and there are still plenty of new fans to be found. I recommend displaying it along with the first two books in the series—Natchez Burning and The Bone Tree.

Iles’s terrific conclusion to his Natchez Burning trilogy is a sweeping story that remains intimate. The Double Eagles, a savage KKK splinter group, have declared a personal war on Penn Cage, a former prosecutor who’s now the mayor of Natchez, Miss., necessitating 24-hour security protection for him and his family. The toxic bigotry escalates as Penn’s father, Tom, once a respected physician, goes on trial for the murder of his former nurse and one-time lover, Viola Turner, an African-American who was suffering from terminal cancer…. [R]elentless pacing keeps the story churning, with unexpected brutality erupting on nearly every page. The trial scenes are among the most exciting ever written in the genre.”
Publishers Weekly (boxed starred review)

“Faulkner meets John D. MacDonald, and that’s all to the good. A boisterous, spills-and-chills entertainment from start to finish.”
Kirkus Reviews

“From his opening line, Iles draws you back into Penn Cage’s deep South in this phenomenal trilogy’s final novel…. [A] heart-racing, enthralling thriller.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“This trilogy is destined to become a classic of literary crime fiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

Mississippi Blood (9780062311153) by Greg Iles. $28.99 hardcover. 3/21/17 one day laydown.

Mystery Short Take: Black Fall – Andrew Mayne

In addition to performing professionally, Mayne is a magician who has starred in his own reality show and now uses magic to teach critical thinking to kids on PBS. This is his third thriller featuring Jessica Blackwood, an FBI agent who comes from a family of magicians.

“Thriller Award–finalist Mayne’s enthralling third Jessica Blackwood novel finds the FBI agent on a stakeout of a serial killer in a Washington, D.C [when] an earthquake rocks the area. Jessica and her team learn of a videotape featuring Nobel Prize–winning physicist Peter Devon, who seems to have predicted the earthquake and warned about the coming of something called Black Fall—but Devon has been dead for eight years…. [M]ore frightening predictions roll in and riots rock the city…. The author, a professional magician, makes the impossible seem probable in this twisty, clever treat.”
Publishers Weekly

Black Fall: A Jessica Blackwood Novel (9780062491985) by Andrew Mayne. $15.99 trade paper original. 3/21/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: The Wrong Dead Guy – Richard Kadrey

This is volume two in Kadrey’s new series and takes this acclaimed urban fantasist into Christopher Moore territory. In fact, Moore himself called the first volume, The Everything Box, “A rolling bouncy-house of a caper tale…quick-witted characters, snarky dialogue, and surreal analogies. If you haven’t sampled Richard Kadrey’s take on fantasy yet, this is a great place to start.”

“[I]nveterate thief Coop is a fast-talking criminal making his way through a supernatural substratum of society. Last time around, he saved the world and has now reluctantly been seconded to the Department of Peculiar Science….Coop’s boss, Woolrich, orders his team on a new mission: ‘A simple theft. A local museum has a mummy on display. We’d like to have it instead of them.’ What sounds like a simple heist quickly becomes mortal danger when they accidentally awaken Harkhuf, an evil mummy imbued with dark magic, which is totally the worst kind of magic, apparently….A goofy, flamboyant, and breathless horror adventure by one of the genre’s sharpest creators.”
Kirkus

“Cross Donald Westlake’s John Dortmunder with Lawrence Block’s Bernie Rhodenbarr, add a layer of supernatural shenanigans, and if you are as talented a writer as Richard Kadrey, you end up with Coop, thief protagonist of The Everything Box….Richard Kadrey is a master of paranormal suspense and relatable antiheroes with a strong dose of dark humor, and The Wrong Dead Guy is a delight from beginning to end. Highly recommended.”
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books & Music, Okemos, MI

The Wrong Dead Guy (9780062389572) by Richard Kadrey. $24.99 hardcover. 2/28/17 on sale.

New Fiction: A Piece of the World – Christine Baker Kline

The author of the blockbuster novel Orphan Train delivers another insightful look into American life, in this case reimagining the life of Christina Olson, the subject of Andrew Wyeth’s iconic painting Christina’s World.

That painting has been called “an American Mona Lisa.” In it Christina Olson’s enigmatic pose hints at the inner life which Kline’s novel illuminates. Born to a farm family in Maine, Olson hopes to become a teacher but is kept home by her family to work on the farm. And the pose she strikes in the painting takes on a special poignancy when the reader learns that the Christina in the picture has been crippled by polio. That disability became part of her bond with the younger Wyeth who had difficulty walking.

The advance reviews are very strong. That the book is both an Indie Next Pick and a LibraryReads pick prefigures much wider consumer support at on sale. Parade.com has already done a cover reveal and offered a sneak-peak excerpt.

People named it Book  of the Week, calling “beautifully observed.” Other reviews at on sale are scheduled in USA Today and the NYTBR.

“[T]old from Christina’s point of view, from the moment she reflects on the painting; it then goes back and forth through her history, from her childhood through the time that Wyeth painted at her family farm, using its environs and Christina and her brother as subjects. First encountering Christina as a middle-aged woman, Wyeth saw something in her that others did not. Their shared bond of physical infirmity (she had undiagnosed polio; he had a damaged right foot and bad hip) enables her to open up about her family and her difficult life, primarily as a shut-in, caring for her family, cooking, cleaning, sewing, and doing laundry….Through it all, the author’s insightful, evocative prose brings Christina’s singular perspective and indomitable spirit to life.”
Publishers Weekly

The figure at the center of Andrew Wyeth’s celebrated painting Christina’s World has her back to the viewer, but Kline turns her to face the reader, simultaneously equipping her with a back story and a lyrical voice….Born in 1893, Christina is a clever schoolgirl whose opportunity to train as a teacher will be obstructed by her parents, who need her to work at home. The progressive bone disease which makes mobility difficult and brings constant pain scarcely reduces her ceaseless domestic workload….Kline lovingly evokes the restricted life of a sensitive woman forced to renounce the norms of intimacy and self-advancement while using her as a lens to capture the simple beauty of the American farming landscape…Kline’s reading group–friendly novel delivers a character portrait that is painterly, sensuous, and sympathetic.”
Kirkus

 A piece of the World is a graceful, moving and powerful demonstration of what can happen when a fearless literary imagination combines with an inexhaustible curiosity about the past and the human heart: a feat of time travel, a bravura improvisation on the theme of art history, a wonderful story that seems to have been waiting, all this time, for Christina Baker Kline to come along and tell it.”
— Michael Chabon

“This is a novel that does what Andrew Wyeth’s famous painting does: it renders a whole universe of love and longing inside a seemingly simple scene. By focusing on this one particular piece of the world, Christina Baker Kline has accomplished something grand. This is a gorgeous novel, both heartbreaking and life-affirming.”
— Nathan Hill

A Piece of the World (9780062356260) by Christina Baker Kline. $27.99 hardcover. 2/21/17 one day laydown.

New Fiction: The Keeper of Lost Things – Ruth Hogan

Here’s a story that is charming, whimsical, poignant and ultimately life affirming…. Aimee Bender territory. It is the story of a writer who carelessly loses a keepsake of his beloved fiancée’s on the day she dies. And it’s the story of a young editor who finds the keepsake on the street and keeps it. Over the course of the next forty years the writer seeks consolation by rescuing the things that other people lose and writing about them. Where life takes the writer, the editor, the lost things and the people they belonged to makes for a lovely journey.

Praise starts with Helen Simonson, whose plucky, good-hearted characters in Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand still warm my heart:

From the attention-grabbing opening paragraph, to the joyful conclusion, Ruth Hogan has stirred together a charming fairytale in which the people may be more lost than the things; and generosity and compassion may be the key to finding a way home. Also there are dogs. Delightful.”

“Hogan’s writing has the soothing warmth of the cups of cocoa and tea her characters regularly dispense…old-fashioned storytelling with a sprinkling of magic.”
— Kirkus

“Hogan’s first novel reveals how even discarded items have significance and seemingly random objects, people, and places are all interconnected.”
— Booklist

“You already know Laura. She’s the friend who wears her heart on her sleeve, who is true to her word, and who could really use a lucky break. But Laura’s lucky break comes with strings attached. She inherits a house, but also the things in it. Anthony is a kind-hearted man who collects ‘lost things’ everywhere he goes. A cup and saucer, a red gemstone, a lone puzzle piece. Anthony can’t help but imagine the lives of the people who’ve lost these things. After all, he lost the most important thing he could ever imagine: Therese and her medallion. Through the years, Anthony has become The Keeper of Lost Things, he made a habit of collecting things he found in gutters, on streets, or blown into driveways. The only thing he didn’t get to do before he died was to get around to finding the people the lost things belonged to. Can Laura live up to the task that Anthony himself could never complete? And how in the world will she do it? This is a novel full of grace, kindness, and forgiveness. It’s perfectly lovely gem from start to finish.”
— Jessilynn Norcross from McLean & Eakin Booksellers, Petoskey, MI

The Keeper of Lost Things (9780062473530) by Ruth Hogan. $26.99 hardcover. 2/12/17 on sale.

 

Fiction Short Take: Garden of Lamentations – Deborah Crombie

This follow-up to 2014’s To Dwell in Darkness is much awaited—at least if my bookseller fans are any indication. A few books ago Crombie finally started hitting the bestseller lists, propelled there by readers who admire elegant, character-driven, old school police procedurals. She is often compared to Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes. The Washington Post adds two more first-rate comparisons, saying, “Crombie has laid claim to the literary territory of moody psychological suspense owned by P. D. James and Barbara Vine.”

This is a January Library Reads Pick and arrives with a starred advance review.

“Det. Supt. Duncan Kincaid is still smarting from an unexplained reassignment and demotion, in bestseller Crombie’s absorbing 17th novel featuring Kincaid and his wife, Det. Insp. Gemma James (after 2014’s To Dwell in Darkness). He’s also troubled by loose ends after a grenade attack and devastating fire at London’s St. Pancras station and the cryptic utterances of his former boss, Chief Supt. Denis Childs. When Childs is attacked and sinks into a coma, Kincaid glimpses larger forces at work….Meanwhile, Gemma looks into the case of a nanny murdered in a Notting Hill garden, which affects the lives of one of Gemma’s friends .Through several points of view, this multifaceted novel provides a sobering cautionary tale about the exploitation of idealism and the abuse of power.
Publishers Weekly

The strength of this series is in its characterizations, particularly those of James and Kincaid, as they balance the demanding work that they love and their family life. Another winner in a series that goes from one high point to another.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Densely plotted and with a balanced interplay between the domestic sphere and the intrigue of police internal affairs. Contemporary and propulsive.”
Kirkus Reviews

“Deborah Crombie’s latest Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid novel is her finest yet, tying together many threads from previous books in a spellbinding tour de force. Gemma is investigating the death of a young nanny and trying to keep it together at home, despite Duncan’s distant and mystifying behavior. Duncan is unable to let go of the apparent suicide of a young officer at the conclusion of his previous case, and is torn between the need to uncover possible corruption at the highest levels of the police force, and his concern that doing so may put himself and everyone he cares about at risk. Crombie is at the top of her form as a character-driven suspense writer, with a nonstop nail-biter of a plot. Highly recommended!
— Carol Schneck Varner, Schuler Books and Music, Okemos, MI

Garden of Lamentations (9780062271631) by Deborah Crombie. $26.99 hardcover. 2/7/17 on sale.

Fiction Short Take: The Possessions – Sara Flannery Murphy

This debut is a high-concept thriller that draws from several genres. From speculative fiction comes a world where people who take a pill and channel the dead—and do so professionally. They become “bodies” who help the grief stricken living communicate with their dead loved ones by using a possession of the deceased. (Hence the lipstick on the cover.)

And from romantic suspense we get the story of a young female “body” with a mysterious past who starts to fall in love with an attractive client who is trying to commune with his wife. And like the best romantic suspense, neither she nor he are quite what they seem–the unraveling of the lush, erotic mystery is its pleasure.

Three starred reviews point to a crowd-pleaser, as well as national coverage in People, Cosmo and Salon to start.

“[Working as a body] perfectly suits emotionally guarded Edie, who apparently wants nothing more than to lose herself after a traumatic past, which only gradually emerges. But her carefully maintained shell starts to crack when she begins sessions with Patrick Braddock, an attractive lawyer, whose stunning wife, Sylvia, drowned 18 months earlier under suspicious circumstances….[H]er efforts to investigate what happened that night at a lake outside the city—and its potential connection to a recently discovered Jane Doe—land her in very real jeopardy. Those ready to buy into the author’s premise will be rewarded by a beautifully rendered, haunting page-turner.”
Publishers Weekly (starred review)

Murphy’s sublime debut is immersive from page one….Murphy expertly blends the dual mysteries of the circumstances surrounding Sylvia’s death and Edie’s own tragic past with suspense and sf-tinged mystery in a complex novel that is both unforgettable and impossible to put down.”
Booklist (starred review)

“This poignant tale is a study of grief and obsession…. Murphy’s imaginative debut is a haunting ghost story and a thrilling mystery that will engross readers until the final page.”
Library Journal (starred review)

The Possessions (9780062458322) by Sara Flannery Murphy. $26.99 hardcover. 2/7/17 on sale.