This week, Philip Marlowe returns, how Paris became Paris, and the book that powerful people don't want you to read.
The Black-Eyed Blonde: A Philip Marlowe Novel by Benjamin Black (Holt) -Black (the pseudonym that John Banville uses for his crime fiction) isn’t the first to tackle the daunting challenge of recreating the distinctive narrative voice of Raymond Chandler’s world-weary, mean streets–walking L.A. private eye, Philip Marlowe. Despite Robert B. Parker’s lengthy experience in the PI genre, his sequel to The Big Sleep, Perchance to Dream, pales in comparison with Black’s pitch-perfect recreation of the character and his time and place. As for the language, Black nails Chandler’s creative and memorable similes and metaphors. When Marlowe shakes hands with someone, “It was like being given a sleek, cool-skinned animal to hold for a moment or two.” The title character, Clare Cavendish, wanders into Marlowe’s office to ask him to trace her lover, Nico Peterson, who disappeared two months earlier.
The Man Who Walked Away by Maud Casey (Bloomsbury) - Casey’s haunting third novel is both unconventional and engaging. In a former pilgrimage church in late-19th-century Bordeaux, a nameless director and doctor manage a small mental asylum along unusually humane lines. One day, a man named Albert arrives at its gates. Unable to keep himself from setting out on fresh journeys, or to remember how he got to each new place, Albert has walked through Europe and beyond, unmoored to home, love, and time. As he bonds with the asylum’s patients and offers what he knows of his past to the doctor, who tries to “listen past the words,” Albert tentatively regains his footing in the everyday world. But his work with the doctor transforms both of them in ways that neither expects.
How Paris Became Paris: The Invention of the Modern City by Joan DeJean (Bloomsbury) - A charismatic and knowledgeable narrator, DeJean shows how an open city where men and women from all stations could congregate fueled the rise of the self-made man, the financier, the real estate developer, the artisan, the merchant, the Parisienne, and the coquette. With panache and examples from primary sources, guidebooks, maps, and paintings, she illustrates how Paris changed people’s conception of a city’s potential.
Half Bad by Sally Green (Viking) - Nathan is the Half Code son of a White Witch and a Black Witch, and no White Witch will let him forget it. While Whites try to fit in amid normal "fains," secretly manipulating society, the Blacks are dangerous loners who, according to the Whites, have no purpose but murdering other witches to steal their powers. Nathan, whose father is Marcus—the most hated of Black Witches—falls in love with a White Witch girl, is taken into custody by the all-powerful Council, and, for years, is both tortured and trained in secret to murder his father. Then, just before Nathan's 17th birthday, he escapes, with only months to find someone to help him receive his own magical gifts.
Redeployment by Phil Klay (Penguin Press) - Klay’s title story, a moving homage to soldiers of war who must return home to attempt a normal life, made a splash when it was first published in Granta. This debut collection of a dozen stories resonates with themes of battle and images of residual battlefield pain and psychological trauma. It’s clear that Klay, himself a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps who served in Iraq, has parlayed his insider’s knowledge of soldier-bonding and emotional scarring into a collection that proves a powerful statement on the nature of war, violence, and the nuances of human nature.
Villains, Scoundrels and Rogues: Incredible True Tales of Mischief and Mayhem by Paul Martin (Prometheus) - Former National Geographic editor Martin delivers the reverse of his Secret Heroes, highlighting Americans who have negatively impacted society in a variety of stomach-churning ways. He sets the tone with his profile of the rapacious Rhode Island slave trader James DeWolf, whose considerable wealth is something with which his heirs continue to struggle, and Samuel Mason, a vicious pirate captain who terrorized travelers along the Ohio River in the early 1800s. There’s also Belle Sorensen Gunness, the icy Norwegian immigrant who “is believed to have slain over 40 people, including her two husbands and all seven of her children”; Charles Davenport, who campaigned for racial purity and helped popularize eugenics; and the notorious Ed Gein.
All Our Names by Dinaw Mengestu (Knopf) - Each of Mengestu’s two narrators—one speaking from the past in Africa, one in present-day America—has a relationship with a young man named Isaac, and the two take turns describing these relationships. The African narrator, a 25-year-old aspiring writer, recounts how he leaves his rural village to subsist on the margins of a university in a city that he simply calls “the Capital.” There, he finds a friend in the magnetic Isaac, a young revolutionary who draws him into an antigovernment insurgency. The second narrator is Helen, a Midwestern social worker, who takes under her wing and into her heart an African refugee named Isaac, knowing little about his situation and nothing of his history.
The Orchard of Lost Souls by Nadifa Mohamed (FSG) - A brutal confrontation in pre–civil war Somalia intertwines three women’s lives in this devastating second novel by Somali-born Mohamed. The story opens in 1987 in the city of Hargeisa, as the widow Kawsar and the orphan Deqo prepare for a pro-government rally that all locals are required to attend. Deqo, who is nine, has been promised a new pair of shoes if she dances for the crowd. When Kawsar saves Deqo from a beating for forgetting her dance steps, a female soldier, Filsan, arrests Kawsar and beats her so severely that she can never walk again. As Somalia descends into revolution, Kawsar struggles with her painful memories; little Deqo survives on the streets, selling stolen fruit and sleeping in a barrel; and duty-bound Filsan’s career unravels along with the country.
Above by Isla Morley (S&S/Gallery) - Morley scores with an audacious page-turner. Blythe Hollowell is only 16 when she’s kidnapped and taken to live in an abandoned missile silo by Dobbs, a local conspiracy theorist, who has chosen her to help him repopulate the world after end times. If the premise and some of the concepts initially owe too great a debt to Emma Donoghue’s Room, the specifics of life underground and Blythe’s coping mechanisms—in particular, her touching habit of using memories to teach herself, as she gets older in captivity, how to be an adult—quickly set it apart.
Boy, Snow, Bird by Helen Oyeyemi (Riverhead) - The latest novel from Oyeyemi is about a woman named Boy; her stepdaughter, Snow; and her daughter, Bird. Set in the 1950s Massachusetts, the novel is a retelling of the Snow White tale that plays on the concept of “fairest of them all,” complete with mirrors as a recurring motif. The story begins with Boy’s headlong escape from her abusive father in New York City. She washes up in a small New England town where she meets Arturo Whitman, a widower who becomes her husband. When their daughter, Bird, is born, she is noticeably “colored,” though her half-sister, Snow (Arturo’s daughter), appears not to be.
The Accident by Chris Pavone (Crown) - The contents of The Accident, a manuscript submission by an anonymous author, shock New York literary agent Isabel Reed, the heroine of Pavone's high-wire thriller—his second novel after 2012's well-received The Expats. Isabel worries that the revelations of this nonfiction work about Charlie Wolfe, a global media baron (think Rupert Murdoch crossed with Charles Foster Kane), pose a real danger. Her fears prove well founded as ruthless, powerful forces do whatever it takes to prevent the book's publication.
Bending Adversity: Japan and the Art of Survival by David Pilling (Penguin Press) - Pilling draws on his own experiences, as well as interviews with novelists, academics, politicians, former prime ministers, executives, bankers, activists, and citizens young and old to provide a probing and insightful portrait of contemporary Japan. Covering the country’s history, politics, culture, economy, society, and foreign policy, he begins with the “triple disaster” of the 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear meltdown to explore how Japan confronts adversity and adapts to difficult circumstances. According to Pilling, Japan’s reluctance to end its isolation has long shaped its foreign policy, so that even with its former economic dominance, “it lacked geopolitical clout.”
The Winner’s Curse by Marie Rutkoski (FSG) - Fans of Rutkoski’s Kronos Chronicles will devour this spellbinding first book in a trilogy about a pair of star-crossed lovers in a society marred by class warfare. When 17-year-old Kestrel, daughter of an esteemed Valorian general, pays too steep a price for a Herrani slave at auction, the audacious maneuver reveals more than just a lapse in judgment. What Kestrel doesn’t know is that Arin is really a spy for Herrani rebels plotting to overthrow the Valorian empire.
The Ghost Apple by Aaron Thier (Bloomsbury) - Nearly 50 years after Bel Kaufman’s bestselling novel, Up the Down Staircase, depicted the hectic landscape of an inner-city high school via a variety of documents, Thier’s debut novel applies the same conventions to the world of higher education; specifically, that of a singular New England institution called Tripoli College. A letter from the late 18th century and a contemporary circular identify Tripoli as a school founded for Native Americans with a sister campus in the West Indies. Loopy course descriptions, the minutiae of faculty meetings, blurbs from the school newspaper, et al., create a delicious texture and form the structure of the book. A droll comedy of modern manners, incisive without being angry, this satire within satire within satire will delight.
Savage Girl by Jean Zimmerman (Viking) - The prologue of Zimmerman’s superior historical thriller will suck most readers in instantly. On the night of May 19, 1876, 22-year-old Hugo Delegate awaits the arrival of the police at a house overlooking Manhattan’s Gramercy Park, the site of a savage murder committed by either him or a “girl murderess.” Hugo soon reveals that the victim, a “longtime acquaintance and sometime friend,” is but the latest in a series, and after his arrest, he presents the complex backstory to his defense attorney.