A young woman receives notice of a mysterious bequest. Is it a case of mistaken identity, or will it reveal some truth about her family?
In Ware’s (The Lying Game, 2017, etc.) fourth novel in as many years, Harriet “Hal” Westaway is barely making ends meet as a tarot reader on the Brighton Pier. Her mother died in a hit-and-run several years before, and in her grief, Hal has drifted into a solitary and impecunious life. Worse still, she’s under threat from a loan shark who’s come to collect the interest on an earlier debt. So when she receives a letter saying she's been named in the will of, possibly, an unknown grandmother, she decides to travel to Cornwall, despite fearing that it’s probably all a mistake. There she meets several possible uncles and a creepy old housekeeper right out of a Daphne du Maurier novel, all against the backdrop of a run-down mansion. As Hal desperately tries to keep up her charade of belonging to the family, she realizes that the malevolent atmosphere of Trepassen House has strong roots in the past, when a young girl came to live there, fell in love, and was imprisoned in her bedroom. Hal just has to figure out exactly who this girl was…without getting herself killed. Ware continues to hone her gift for the slow unspooling of unease and mystery, developing a consistent sense of threat that’s pervasive and gripping. She uses tarot readings to hint at the supernatural, but at its heart, this is a very human mystery. The isolation of Trepassen House, its magpies, and its anachronistic housekeeper cultivate a dull sense of horror. Ware's novels continue to evoke comparison to Agatha Christie; they certainly have that classic flavor despite the contemporary settings.
Knoll (Luckiest Girl Alive, 2015) turns her cynical eye to sibling rivalry and the twisted—and, in this case, murderous—world of reality TV.
Meet the entrepreneurial ladies of the New York City–based reality show Goal Diggers. Brett Courtney is the youngest cast member. She’s been known to reach for a second doughnut and is committed to convincing the clients of her popular WeSPOKE spinning classes that being skinny is not the key to being healthy. Her engagement to her girlfriend, Arch, is the icing on the reality show cake. Stunning Stephanie Simmons is the only African-American cast member and a bestselling author, but her struggle with depression threatens to hold her back. Juice bar guru and famously vegan Jen Greenberg indulges in secret turkey bacon binges, and dating website creator Lauren Bunn is known as Lauren Fun! Brett’s older sister and business partner, Kelly, a single mother whose 12-year-old daughter is a showstopper, is the new cast member and is everything that Brett has never been: thin, beautiful, and, as far as Brett is concerned, always their parents' favored daughter. Executive producer Jesse Barnes turns the screws and showrunner Lisa Griffin cracks the whip as Brett and Stephanie detail the production of Season 4 in alternating first-person narratives. Opening and closing the book (and sprinkled a few times in between) are sections narrated by Kelly in which she sits down with Jesse for on-camera interviews in the aftermath of Brett's death, but the truth of how Brett died isn’t revealed until the final act. Knoll explores the pressure society places on women to be everything to everyone and do it all without a strand of hair out of place. There’s enough conniving, scandal, and snark to rival the most shocking episodes of Real Housewives, and these cutthroat divas play to win even if it means blurring the line between truth and lies. In the end, murder seems inevitable. Season 4 will end with a bang, and there will be blood.
Dizzying and overwrought but salaciously entertaining nonetheless.
In which the veteran humorist enters middle age with fine snark but some trepidation as well.
Mortality is weighing on Sedaris (Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977-2002, 2017, etc.), much of it his own, professional narcissist that he is. Watching an elderly man have a bowel accident on a plane, he dreaded the day when he would be the target of teenagers’ jokes “as they raise their phones to take my picture from behind.” A skin tumor troubled him, but so did the doctor who told him he couldn’t keep it once it was removed. “But it’s my tumor,” he insisted. “I made it.” (Eventually, he found a semitrained doctor to remove and give him the lipoma, which he proceeded to feed to a turtle.) The deaths of others are much on the author’s mind as well: He contemplates the suicide of his sister Tiffany, his alcoholic mother’s death, and his cantankerous father’s erratic behavior. His contemplation of his mother’s drinking—and his family’s denial of it—makes for some of the most poignant writing in the book: The sound of her putting ice in a rocks glass increasingly sounded “like a trigger being cocked.” Despite the gloom, however, frivolity still abides in the Sedaris clan. His summer home on the Carolina coast, which he dubbed the Sea Section, overspills with irreverent bantering between him and his siblings as his long-suffering partner, Hugh, looks on. Sedaris hasn’t lost his capacity for bemused observations of the people he encounters. For example, cashiers who say “have a blessed day” make him feel “like you’ve been sprayed against your will with God cologne.” But bad news has sharpened the author’s humor, and this book is defined by a persistent, engaging bafflement over how seriously or unseriously to take life when it’s increasingly filled with Trump and funerals.
Horrormeister King (End of Watch, 2016, etc.) serves up a juicy tale that plays at the forefront of our current phobias, setting a police procedural among the creepiest depths of the supernatural.
If you’re a little squeamish about worms, you’re really not going to like them after accompanying King through his latest bit of mayhem. Early on, Ralph Anderson, a detective in the leafy Midwestern burg of Flint City, is forced to take on the unpleasant task of busting Terry Maitland, a popular teacher and Little League coach and solid citizen, after evidence links him to the most unpleasant violation and then murder of a young boy: “His throat was just gone,” says the man who found the body. “Nothing there but a red hole. His bluejeans and underpants were pulled down to his ankles, and I saw something….” Maitland protests his innocence, even as DNA points the way toward an open-and-shut case, all the way up to the point where he leaves the stage—and it doesn’t help Anderson’s world-weariness when the evil doesn’t stop once Terry’s in the ground. Natch, there’s a malevolent presence abroad, one that, after taking a few hundred pages to ferret out, will remind readers of King’s early novel It. Snakes, guns, metempsychosis, gangbangers, possessed cops, side tours to jerkwater Texas towns, all figure in King’s concoction, a bloodily Dantean denunciation of pedophilia. King skillfully works in references to current events (Black Lives Matter) and long-standing memes (getting plowed into by a runaway car), and he’s at his best, as always, when he’s painting a portrait worthy of Brueghel of the ordinary gone awry: “June Gibson happened to be the woman who had made the lasagna Arlene Peterson dumped over her head before suffering her heart attack.” Indeed, but overturned lasagna pales in messiness compared to when the evil entity’s head caves in “as if it had been made of papier-mâché rather than bone.” And then there are those worms. Yuck.
Not his best, but a spooky pleasure for King’s boundless legion of fans.
Doomed by a fatal illness, Gideon Crew embarks on one wild, series-ending adventure (Beyond the Ice Limit, 2016, etc.).
Crew has AVM, a brain malformation that will kill him in about two months, although he’ll feel fine until his sudden death. He and his engineer colleague Manuel Garza lose their jobs with no warning when their employer, Effective Engineering Solutions, suddenly stops paying them and shuts down without a word of explanation. While they're cleaning out their desks, they discover that a computer in the office has just finished a calculation that it's been working on for 43,000 hours—almost five years. Garza sticks a USB drive in the computer and downloads the information, which is about a secret project to decipher the ancient Phaistos Disk. Garza proposes that they find whatever treasure it may lead to and sell it “for the most dough we possibly can,” no matter what it turns out to be, even if it’s a “fucking centerfold of the Mona Lisa.” So they trek to the desolate Hala’ib Triangle in southeastern Egypt, a journey involving one blasted thing after another. They ride an ancient ferry that sinks on the Red Sea, drowning hundreds. A woman outbids Crew and Garza when they try to rent camels, their guide cheats them, and they nearly die of thirst in the desert, where they try to survive a haboob—“the worst kind of dust storm”—and find a “mist oasis.” The pace never slackens as they get closer to the GPS coordinates they’re looking for, and they have an encounter that changes everything. Crew’s legerdemain and Garza’s nifty engineering skills get them out of serious jams but may not save them from the one-eyed leopard or the fearsome warrior who is determined to fight Garza to the death. Through all of this, Crew faces the ultimate clock, the one ticking inside his brain. This is a cleverly plotted yarn with some laugh-out-loud twists, the best ones involving Garza’s bravery and ingenuity. There are numerous references to earlier books in the series, and fans might like to read Beyond the Ice Limit first. Still, this book stands alone just fine.
When the end of a book with a dying hero makes the reader laugh, that’s a neat trick. This is a great cap on the series.
French’s adrenaline-fueled adventure fantasy, which features badass gangs of tattooed half-orcs on the backs of giant war hogs thundering across a lawless wasteland, is an unapologetically brutal thrill ride—like Mad Max set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.
The Lot Lands are sprawling badlands that separate the realm of humans (frails) from the orcs (thicks). Seen as abominations from both sides, the half-orcs exist in loose outlaw clans that patrol the Lot Lands, keeping the frails safe from orc attack, as has been their sole duty for generations. Jackal is a member of the Grey Bastards, and although he loves his home in the Kiln—a seemingly impenetrable fortress that can heat its outsides like a blast furnace when attacked—he believes the leader of the Bastards, an old half-orc twisted with disease called the Claymaster, should be overthrown. The arrival of a half-orc wizard has increased the Claymaster’s strange behavior. Jackal’s childhood friend Oats—a giant thrice-blood (the product of a half-orc breeding with an orc)—backs his decision to attempt to head the Bastards, but when the group puts it to a vote, a tough female half-orc who Jackal thought had his back chooses the Claymaster, effectively exiling him into the Lot Lands. With the future of the Bastards in jeopardy, Jackal embarks on an epic adventure that includes saving an elven girl imprisoned by a demon that lives in a massive swath of bogland saturated with dark magic, becoming a folk hero to a community of halflings after battling crazed centaurs, and, most important, discovering the true history of the Lot Lands and the reason for the half-orc patrols. Powered by unparalleled worldbuilding, polished storytelling, and relentless pacing, French’s novel is a cool fusion of classic adventure fantasy and 21st-century pop-culture sensibilities with nonstop action; a cast of unforgettable and brilliantly authentic characters; vulgar but witty dialogue; and strong female characters who overturn old sexist conventions. This is a dirty, blood-soaked gem of a novel.
An addictively readable—and undeniably cool—fantasy masterwork.
A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.
“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.
Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.
A redheaded waitress, a good-looking private eye, insurance fraud, arson, rough sex, and a long hot summer: some like it noir.
With her 23rd novel, Lippman (Wilde Lake, 2016, etc.) pays tribute to a literary predecessor who, like her, began his study of crime as a journalist at the Baltimore Sun—James M. Cain, author of The Postman Always Rings Twice, Double Indemnity, and Mildred Pierce. Lippman’s version of the sexy stranger passing through town starts with Polly Costello (that’s one of her names, anyway) on a beach vacation in Fenwick, Delaware, with her husband and 3-year-old daughter, Jani. One morning she says she needs a break from the sun, then grabs her duffel and heads down the road. “What kind of woman walks out on her family? Gregg knows. The kind of woman he picked up in a bar four years ago precisely because she had that kind of wildcat energy.…She scratched, she bit, she was up for anything, anywhere, anytime.” Actually, poor Gregg, suddenly a single dad, doesn’t know the half of it. Someone who does have a much fuller picture of Polly’s background is Adam, a good-looking, Oberlin- and culinary-institute–educated fellow she runs into at a bar her first day on the lam. Neither Adam nor Polly is candid about what has brought them to stools at the High-Ho, but both stick around and get jobs there, as chef and waitress. By the time their connection in the bedroom blossoms into something more serious, the skeletons in the closet have been joined by fresh new ones. Lippman’s trademark is populating a whodunit with characters so believably complicated that they don’t need the mystery to carry the book. If that’s not quite the case here, you can tell how much fun the author had updating the classic noir tropes, and it’s contagious.
Plotty, page-turning pleasure plus instructions on how to make a perfect grilled cheese sandwich and how to stab a man in the heart.
The Golden State Killer is once again in the headlines after finally being caught. This book about the search for him is sure to catch—and keep—readers’ attention.
McNamara, a TV screenwriter and true-crime blog and magazine writer, was particularly captivated by the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer. A prolific criminal who left dozens of cold cases (including at least 12 murders and 50 rapes) in his wake, the GSK had been glimpsed but never seen, and the author was sure he would be caught despite evading police for over 30 years. She hunted him mostly through online research, and she became friends with other cold-case enthusiasts, detectives, and others who still pursued justice, giving her unparalleled access to information about the GSK and his crimes. In this explosive book, McNamara combines her prodigious research with her impressive storytelling skills and ability to seamlessly weave the narratives of all those lives into one terrifying story. Sadly, the author died in 2016 before finishing the book (her husband, Patton Oswalt, provides the afterword), and the manuscript was completed by investigative journalist Billy Jensen and her lead researcher, Paul Haynes. The last section of the book is written in exactly the style one would expect from an investigative journalist: no nonsense and loaded with facts and relevant observations. For armchair true-crime enthusiasts, this cold case, packed with countless cases and near misses, would have been captivating based on nothing but the dry facts. However, in McNamara’s skilled hands, this enthralling book becomes so much more: a detective story with an unlikely narrator, a study in changing forensic techniques, a multidecade saga that never loses urgency, and a potent analysis of human behavior in victims, witnesses, investigators, and onlookers.
An exemplary true-crime book, and with an HBO adaptation in the works, this book will be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in human nature, crime, puzzles, and investigative dramas.
“Don’t. Trust. Anyone. Ever.”—X-ray meets psychoanalysis and balance sheet in this sharp-edged look at the workings of America’s most dysfunctional gang.
When your father is angry, absent, and egomaniacal, it stands to reason that you might turn out a little different from other people—and especially if you throw a lot of money into the equation. So it is, writes Vanity Fair senior reporter and former White House intern Fox, that the Trump family, formed of wives and ex-wives and mistresses and their various offspring, has emerged, with the patriarch’s peculiar brand of tutelary wisdom: Don’t ever trust anyone, even if that anyone is a member of your own family. In one small but telling passage, Trump asks a confidant what to do with two sons of such divergent abilities as Don Jr. and Eric; when told that he should give the smarter all the challenges he could come up with and the less smart all the challenges he could handle, the answer came back that it was a nice idea, less nice in practice, “because they figure out that’s what you’re doing.” By Fox’s account, the most real-worldly of the sons is Don Jr., who carved his own course for at least a time, even if he morphed into “a yapping attack puppy, trailing wherever he went the senior attack dog with the much bigger bark.” Canine metaphors aside, Melania comes in for the tiniest amount of sympathy, and perhaps Ivanka too, though a juicy bit of dish comes with the author’s account of the zeitgeist-innocent first daughter’s ill-conceived and certainly ill-delivered homily to working women, a failure that, one publishing executive says, "was a bloodbath.”
High-level gossip of a kind, but a well-sourced, train wreck–fascinating look at the makings of Clan Trump, “so uniquely suited for the second decade of the twenty-first century and its fame-obsessed, money-hungry, voracious twenty-four-hour cycle of a culture.”