Fall always marks another beginning of a great literary season. It is a time for some of the year’s heaviest hitters to release their works. This fall is no exception, with top titles coming from authors including Elie Wiesel, Jami Attenberg, Michael Chabon and more.
Here, we present our editor’s top 10 picks in fiction from this fall’s offerings:
Check out our entire Fall Fiction Preview review list.
Born in Irish Town in Brooklyn, Willie never quite fit into his own family. His father was a taciturn blacksmith at a time when automobiles were starting to become the rage, and Willie’s brothers had an unaccountable hatred for their younger sibling. Willie was smart and sensitive but came of age during some parlous economic times and considered banks and bankers the symptom of life as a rigged game…By the 1930s, Willie is the most famous bank robber in the country, known in part for his gentility and the way in which he approaches his craft. He’s never loud or violent but instead devoted to artful disguises and making clean and quiet getaways (hence his nickname, the Actor). Not everything works smoothly, of course, for he’s incarcerated for many years, but he ironically becomes something of a folk hero for breaking out of several prisons. His final release, at Christmas in 1969, following a 17-year stretch in the slammer, has him retracing his past in the company of a reporter and photographer. Moehringer cleverly presents the antiphonal voices of Willie in the present (i.e., at the time of his release) and Willie in the past to give a rich accounting of his life, including his love for the works of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Freud, Jung and Joyce. Whatever else you can say about Willie, in prison he got an excellent education. A captivating and absorbing read. Out Sept. 25.
Australia-based writer Robotham’s insightful psychologist Joe O’Loughlin once again tackles a tough case involving crimes that, at first blush, do not seem related. Two young girls from a small English village disappear one night after attending a local funfair. Gorgeous, promiscuous Tash and quiet, athletic Piper had little in common, but became fast friends. Tash was brilliant, but underachieving. Her lower-middle-class family was troubled, and she attended a prestigious private school on scholarship, while Piper’s mismatched former-model mother and wealthy banker father lived in the area’s toniest neighborhood. While their disappearance initially sparked teams of searchers and outrage from the local citizenry, it simmered down once the police become convinced the girls were runaways. Three years later, the girls are still missing. In the meantime, O’Loughlin and his teenage daughter are trying to rebuild their fractured relationship, damaged by his estrangement from his wife. While attending a conference, police seek out the savvy profiler and ask for his help in solving a terrible double murder. As investigators wade through the blood bath of a crime scene, they learn that the home is connected to the girls’ disappearances. In fact, while the couple killed was no relation to Tash, the home in which it occurred was where she’d lived before she vanished. While police puzzle through the homicide, another body is found, but this time it’s an unidentified young woman found frozen in the ice of a nearby pond. O’Loughlin wants no part of either case but is soon sucked into helping police while racing against the clock to prevent another tragedy…Subtle, smart, compelling and blessed with both an intelligent storyline and top-notch writing, this book will grab readers from page one and not let go until the final sentence. Out Oct. 2.
Though this novel serves as a sequel to The Given Day (2008), it can be read independently of Lehane’s previous historical novel and is closer in its page-turning narrative momentum to his more contemporary thrillers such as Mystic River (2001). Its protagonist is Joe Coughlin, the morally conflicted youngest son of a corrupt Boston police official (oldest brother Danny was protagonist of the previous novel and makes a cameo appearance here). One of the more compelling characters ever created by Lehane, Joe is a bright young man raised in an economically privileged Irish household who turned to crime as a teenager because “it was fun and he was good at it.” He’s the product of a loveless marriage, for whom “the hole at the center of his house had been a hole at the center of his parents and one day the hole had found the center of Joe.” Among the ways he tries to fill that hole is through love and loyalty, both of which put him at odds with the prevailing ethos of the gang bosses among whom he finds himself caught in the crossfire. He ultimately builds a bootlegging empire in Tampa, backed by a vicious gang lord whose rival had tried to kill Joe, and he falls in love with a Cuban woman whose penchant for social justice receives a boost from his illegal profits…Neither as epic in scope nor as literarily ambitious as its predecessor, the novel builds to a powerful series of climaxes, following betrayal upon betrayal, which will satisfy Lehane’s fans and deserves to extend his readership as well. Out Oct. 2.
Nothing in Knopf’s reflective, quietly loopy Hamptons mysteries starring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski (Ice Cap, 2012, etc.) will have prepared his fans for this taut, streamlined tale of a man investigating his own murder. The hit man who invades the Cathcarts’ upscale home in Stamford, Conn., tells Florencia Cathcart that if she doesn’t write down the answers to five questions, he’ll kill her husband. When she complies, he shoots them both anyway. Florencia dies, but Arthur merely hovers in a coma for months. Convinced upon his return to life that his killer’s been monitoring his progress with a view to finishing him off, he persuades his neurologist sister, Evelyn, to have him declared dead. She agrees, although she’s signing on to a long list of potential charges for conspiracy and insurance fraud, and Arthur, once he’s erased from the grid, is free to assume the identity of one Alex Rimes and go after the hit man and his employer…The trail to the killers leads through a wary arrangement with a retired FBI agent, an elaborate precious-metals scam and a society party to die for before Arthur finally confronts his quarry in a sequence that manages both to satisfy readers’ bloodlust and to point toward a sequel. An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted, and the story seems to unfold itself without human assistance. Out Sept. 15.
Wiesel takes us on a journey through dream, memory and especially storytelling in his latest novel, which concerns Shaltiel Feigenberg, who in 1975, is captured and imprisoned for 80 hours in a basement by two captors. Feigenberg is politically unimportant and practically unknown before his capture, but soon thereafter he becomes front-page news, though his plight is reported in wildly different ways by the world press. His captors represent divergent political realities. One, Luigi, is an Italian political revolutionary with no particular animus against Jews, while the second, Ahmed, is a passionate advocate for Palestine with an intense hatred for the “Zionist cause.” Perhaps predictably, a “bad cop–good cop” dynamic develops as they tend to Feigenberg, Luigi gradually freeing him from restraints while Ahmed rails with fanatic fervor against all that Feigenberg represents to him. Luigi and Ahmed are motivated by “humanitarian” concerns—they demand that three Palestinian prisoners be freed in exchange for Feigenberg’s freedom—rather than materialistic ones. Feigenberg is mystified by his captivity, for he’s simply a professional storyteller with a special fondness for spinning his tales to children and the elderly. This forced period of darkness ironically provides him with an extended period of enlightenment, as he has time to reflect on his life—the death of his grandmother at Auschwitz, his frequently absent but observant father, his initial meeting with Blanca (the woman who eventually becomes his wife), and the growing Communist sympathies of his older brother…Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political novel. Out Aug. 21.
Former lawyer Edie Middlestein has always been a large presence, brilliant as a lawyer, loving as a mother, shrewish as a wife. Since early childhood, food has been her private if not secret passion. The novel is organized according to Edie’s fluctuations in weight, and the descriptions of her sensual joy in the gluttony that may be killing her are often mouthwatering. Sixty-ish Edie is obese and ravaged by diabetes. When her pharmacist husband, Richard, leaves her shortly before she’s scheduled for an operation, Edie’s children are outraged. Thirty-one-year-old teacher Robin is a fearful near alcoholic who has avoided intimacy since a disastrous experience in high school. Ironically, her new self-proclaimed hatred of her father opens her to the possibility of a relationship with her geeky neighbor Daniel, a gentle soul with a hidden but strong spine, not unlike Robin’s older brother Benny. Benny is happily married to Rachelle, a woman of fierce protectiveness who initially denies Richard all access to his grandchildren to punish him for his desertion. Is Richard a heartless, selfish man, or is he correct that Edie left him years before he left her? A little of both. All these characters feel more than one emotion at a time, and all are more than they first seem...As the Middlesteins and their friends move back and forth in time, their lives take on increasing depth individually and together. A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life. Out Oct. 23.
The Nesbø phenomenon has transcended “next Stieg Larrson” status. In practically every comparison except books sold (and, with millions to date, Nesbø’s catching up), he’s superior to his late Swedish counterpart: more imaginative, better plotting, richer characters, stronger narrative momentum, more psychological and philosophical depth. No, he doesn’t have an androgynously attractive tattooed girl, but he does have Harry Hole: long an Oslo detective who specialized in (increasingly gruesome) serial killers, now a recovering alcoholic involved in some shadowy pursuits in Hong Kong while trying to reclaim his soul. Only the most powerful lure could bring Harry back to the dangers and temptations he faces back home, and that lure is love. Readers of earlier books (and some back story is necessary to feel the full impact of this one) will remember his doomed relationship with Rakel and the way he briefly served as a surrogate father to her son, Oleg. That innocent boy has now become a junkie and an accused murderer in a seemingly open-and-shut case, with Harry the only hope of unraveling a conspiracy that extends from a “phantom” drug lord through the police force to the government. The drug is a synthetic opiate called “violin,” three times stronger than heroin, controlled by a monopoly consortium. The murder victim (whose dying voice provides narrative counterpoint) was Oleg’s best friend and stash buddy, and his stepsister is the love of Oleg’s life…As all sorts of father-son implications manifest themselves, the conclusion to one of the most cleanly plotted novels in the series proves devastating for protagonist and reader alike. Hole will soon achieve an even higher stateside profile through the Martin Scorsese film of Nesbø's novel The Snowman (2011), but those hooked by that novel or earlier ones should make their way here as quickly as they can. Out Oct. 2.
A treasure trove of graphic artworks—they’re too complex to be called comics—from Ware, master of angst, alienation, sci-fi and the crowded street. At 44, Ware (The Acme Novelty Library, 2005, etc.) is old enough to remember the day when you could stick a few dollars in an envelope, send it off and have a box full of strange goodness come to your door—a mystery box, that is, with puzzles, games, gag items and maybe one or two things worth keeping. Opening the oversized box that contains the many pieces of this book is a kindred experience: It’s not quite clear what’s inside, save for brightly colored paper in various forms, from foldout poster to ultrathin, small notebook to sturdy hardcover. Each package contains a story set, as the title suggests, in or near a teeming city. How the reader reads these seems not to matter, for the box is like a river, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor, into which one steps where the current seems safest; there’s no beginning to it and no end. One thing is clear: Not many of Ware’s characters are happy, even if they live in buildings that are overstuffed, like this box, with things…A dazzling document, beautifully if most idiosyncratically drawn; in this iteration, sure to become a collector’s item, though one that begs for an easier-to-handle trade edition. Out Oct. 2.
Both the title and the tone make this initially seem to be an uncharacteristically light and playful novel from McEwan (Atonement, 2002, etc.). Its narrator is a woman recounting her early 20s, some four decades after the fact, when she was recruited by Britain’s MI5 intelligence service to surreptitiously fund a young novelist who has shown some promise. After the two fall in love, inevitably, she must negotiate her divided loyalties, between the agency she serves and the author who has no idea that his work is being funded as an anti-Communist tool in the “soft Cold War.” Beautiful (as she recognizes such a character in a novel must be) and Cambridge-educated, Serena Frome seems perfect for the assignment of soliciting writer Tom Haley because, as one of her superiors puts it, “you love literature, you love your country.” The “Sweet Tooth” operation makes no attempt to control what its authors write and doesn’t reveal to them exactly who is funding them, but provides financial support for writers who have shown some resistance to fashionable radicalism. Though Serena’s reading tends toward “naive realism,” favoring novels where she would be “looking for a version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite old shoes,” the relationship between Tom’s fiction and his character, as well as the parallels between the creative inventions his job demands and those of hers, illuminate the complexities of life and art for Serena and the reader as well…Britain’s foremost living novelist has written a book—often as drily funny as it is thoughtful—that somehow both subverts and fulfills every expectation its protagonist has for fiction. Out Nov. 13.
An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital. The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic. Two partners own a used record store that has become an Oakland neighborhood institution, “the church of vinyl.” One of the partners, Archy Stallings, is black, and he is estranged from his father, a broken-down former B-movie action hero, as well as from the teenage son he never knew about who has arrived in Oakland from Texas to complicate the plot. The other partner is Nat Jaffe, white and Jewish, whose wife is also partners with Archy’s wife in midwifery (a profession as threatened as selling used vinyl), and whose son develops a crush on Archy’s illegitimate son. The plot encompasses a birth and a death against the backdrop of the encroachment of a chain superstore, owned by a legendary athlete, which threatens to squash Archy and Nat’s Brokeland Records, all amid a blackmailing scheme dating back to the Black Panther heyday. Yet the warmth Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, etc.) feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight. Out Sept. 11.