Archaeologist Ruth Galloway lives in a small cottage on the edge of the great Saltmarsh in England’s remote Norfolk region. Her quiet life is disrupted when Detective Chief Inspector Harry Nelson asks Ruth to help identify remains discovered in the Saltmarsh. Harry Nelson hopes that they are the remains of a young girl who went missing a decade previously; he is disappointed and relieved when they turn out to date to the Iron Age. But Ruth quickly becomes invested in the case, assisting Harry by giving her professional opinion of a series of letters sent, presumably by the killer, which make frequent reference to the Iron and Bronze Age artifacts found on the Saltmarsh, including a submerged causeway and a wooden henge. When another young girl goes missing, everyone fears the two cases are connected and Harry and Ruth must decipher the culprit’s strange clues before more children fall victim.
Interesting characters, a stunning backdrop in the Saltmarsh, and the unusual archaeological angle make this a mystery sure to appeal to readers looking for something a little less violent and more character-driven. This is the first in a series featuring Ruth Galloway.
Clay Jannon, an out of work web/graphic designer, ends up taking a job as the night clerk at Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore, a used bookstore tucked away on a San Francisco street. He soon discovers that this store is unique. In addition to the shelves of relatively normal stock up front, there are huge towering shelves full of strange, seemingly encrypted books in the back. There is a small contingent of peculiar people—customers? Members of some odd book club?—who come in at all hours of the day and night requesting specific books from those odd shelves. In his spare time, Clay begins to build a 3D computer-generated model of the store and begins to find strange patterns in the borrowing habits of these odd customers and their odd books. Soon, he finds himself caught up in a mystery dating back to the earliest days of printing, a vast hidden code that has yet to be decrypted. Those trying believe it may hold the key to eternal life itself. But Clay would just settle for a good job with good friends and a pretty girlfriend.
Aptly mingling the latest and greatest of modern technology—Clay’s girlfriend is a Google employee and all-around tech wiz, Clay’s best friend owns a 3D modeling company specializing in accurate depictions of human anatomy in animation—with the oldest and most enduring technology—books themselves—this book will appeal to a wide audience. Fans of The Night Circus will find some of that book’s unique whimsy on display here as well.
Siegel’s striking graphic novel tells the story of Captain Twain (no relation to the famous Mark), a steamboat captain and frustrated writer who discovers a wounded mermaid clinging to his ship. He brings her aboard, hiding her in his cabin and nursing her back to health—and becoming dangerously attached to her in the process. As he learns more about the mermaid’s story he becomes convinced that she is somehow related to the disappearance of his ship’s former owner and the strange correspondence being carried out between current owner Lafayette (the former owner’s younger, wilder brother) and the mysterious author of folklore studies, C.G. Beaverton.
A dramatic, though quiet, story is well-matched to atmospheric pencil and charcoal artwork. Fantastic and gripping.
Lixia is one of eight human anthropologists sent down to the surface of an alien planet. There, she encounters the native intelligent species, who are very like humanity in some ways but utterly alien in others. As Lixia travels the planet with Nia, an outcast woman from the Iron People tribal group, she experiences several discrete cultures whose main similarities seem rooted in the species’ biological expressions of gender and the mating impulse. But even this seems to be not so monolithic as it originally appears; Nia is outcast precisely because she defied her culture’s conventions and fell in love with a man. The pair encounter others who defy this standard, including a man who has rejected the warlike isolation of the other males for a life of spiritual fervor and contemplation.
A quiet, masterful book in the grand anthropological tradition of Ursula LeGuin, A Woman of the Iron People won the Mythopoeic Award—normally granted to works of fantasy, not science fiction. But such is the mythic power of the stories recounted by Nia and the other aliens that this book transcends simple genre definitions, becoming a quietly moving meditation on the nature of humanity and the self.
It is 1912 and Sebastian Becker, former Pinkerton detective, is now an investigator for the Lord Chancellor’s Masters of Lunacy. His job is to investigate those “men of property” suspected of insanity in order to determine whether or not they are, in fact, mad and therefore incapable of continuing to manage their own affairs and money. He is sent to Arnmouth, a small town home to the estate of Sir Owain Lancaster, a former master of industry suspected of having gone insane after a disastrous excursion to the Amazon which claimed the lives of his wife and son. Becker arrives only to become immediately caught up in the hunt for two missing children—who turn up murdered on Sir Owain’s lands. The parallels between this case and another many years earlier in which the girls survived their ordeal are obvious, and Becker begins to investigate, attempting to locate those earlier victims—one of whom is uncommunicative and unfriendly, the other of whom has repressed all memory of the events in question. Meanwhile, Sir Owain claims that the monsters which attacked his party in the Amazon have followed him home and it is these beasts who are to blame for the girls’ attacks. Becker must unravel the truth before more victims fall prey to the monster—or the man.
Well-plotted, with an interesting lead and a fascinating set-up, The Bedlam Detective is sure to appeal to fans of intelligent historical mystery.
Johnson’s first collection of short fiction is by turns whimsical, dark, luminous, and deeply affecting. A few of the stories, like Johnson’s two novels (The Fox Woman and Fudoki) take place in a sort of mythic version of Japan. Many others are notable for their contemporary, recognizable settings—settings whose very reality makes the inevitable turn toward the strange, the mythic, or the outright magical more compelling and powerful. Stand-outs in the collection include the excellent title story; the novella-length The Man Who Bridged the Mist; and the delightfully weird 26 Monkeys, Also the Abyss. Those familiar with Johnson’s longer works will find the germs of those two novels here also, in the short stories Fox Magic and The Cat who Walked a Thousand Miles. Though the collection has its weaker stories, overall, this is one of the strongest collections of contemporary magical realist fiction I have encountered in some time. Recommended for fans of the short fiction of Aimee Bender, Kelly Link, Elizabeth Hand, and Lauren Groff.
Pepper, a big man with a big temper, is forcibly committed to the New Hyde Mental Hospital after assaulting three undercover policemen. His stay, originally supposed to be only 72 hours, is extended almost indefinitely by a combination of potent sedatives and Pepper’s own bad decisions and volatile temper. Everyone in New Hyde is medicated into passivity, kept restrained for illegal amounts of time for any infraction, and tormented in ways small and large by the underpaid and overworked staff. Pepper soon falls in with a small group of other troublemakers, including his roommate Coffee; a teenaged girl who’s already a lifer; and the ward’s oldest female patient, who considers herself the mother to everyone else. It isn’t long before Pepper discovers the hospital’s biggest secret…the Devil himself is kept in solitary confinement there, sneaking out at night to visit violence upon the other inmates of the wards. Or so the patients believe; according to the staff, he’s just a sick old man. As Pepper tries to make sense of his new surroundings while surviving the Devil’s nightly excursions, a diffuse sort of plan begins to take shape—they will take revenge upon the Devil and escape New Hyde once and for all. But can they survive outside?
An odd sort of novel, neither truly horror nor truly realistic, The Devil in Silver is, at its core, a ringing indictment of the modern mental health establishment. The abuses committed within New Hyde are appalling, and the statistics given–medical, financial, etc—are equally so.
Pulitzer-winner Diaz’s new collection of short stories is a triumph. As with his earlier collection, Drown, the stories are linked by a common theme. Whereas in Drown the stories were mostly coming-of-age tales of immigrant life, in This Is How You Lose Her they are stories of love, betrayal, and the other constants of adult romantic relationships. Yunior, the loud-mouthed authorial stand-in protagonist Diaz continues to return to, is the narrator for most of these stories, and the landscape will be familiar to anyone well-versed in Diaz’s earlier work. Stand-outs in the collection include the final story, The Cheater’s Guide to Love; and the only story to feature a female protagonist, Otravida, Otravez.
Jami Attenberg, the author of this delightful new novel, grew up Buffalo Grove, and the novel itself is set in the Chicago suburbs, featuring many familiar landmarks. For more than thirty years, Edie and Richard Middlestein have a shared a solid family life together. They have close friends, have attended many spectacular b’nai mitzvah parties, and love their children and grandchildren. Their lives are starting to fall apart, however, due to Edie’s increasing obsession and addiction to food. As Edie’s girth grows and her health declines, their world together splinters apart. This is a funny and charmingly poignant novel. I highly recommend it for book clubs and everyone else who loves great character-centered family stories.
This novel reads like a movie—in all of the best ways. Spanning decades and continents (primarily Italy in the ’60s and present-day Hollywood), Beautiful Ruins is a wonderful old-fashioned love story with a contemporary satirical edge. There are numerous characters in this book, all intertwined through relationships and time; to name a few: there is the American starlet who comes to a remote Italian village to die, the movie producer who made his comeback with a reality TV show, Richard Burton, Elizabeth Taylor, an army veteran turned fledgling alcoholic writer, and a dissatisfied movie assistant. An inventive novel about flawed yet fascinating people, Beautiful Ruins was a joy to read. It had depth without being depressing. It was literary yet also a page turner. And it had a happy ending!