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Tough Day for the Army

John Warner. Louisiana State Univ., $22.50 trade paper (168p) ISBN 978-0-8071-5802-9

Warner, editor at large of McSweeney's Internet Tendency, has produced a short story collection that mashes the surreal with the heartfelt to fantastic effect. In "Monkey and Man," an organ-grinder's monkey may or may not be framing the narrator for murder—and why does the monkey know so much about his ex-girlfriend? In "Poet Farmers," a married couple struggles to endure the caped poets who recurrently show up at their farm wanting to learn "the toil and the drought, the struggle against the soil." "My Best Seller" depicts an author's hilarious machinations at crafting a storyline for his would-be novel that conforms to the fickle reading trends of the day. Like George Saunders and Etgar Keret, Warner plays with conventional mores, turning them on their ear. Also like those authors, Warner successfully layers his satire with rich characters and a general playfulness with form that somehow renders a deep emotional resonance. The result is a well-written and wonderfully comedic collection of short stories that gooses as much as it gives. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Tom Clancy Support and Defend: A Campus Novel

Mark Greaney. Putnam, $28.95 (512p) ISBN 978-0-399-17334-9

Tom Clancy, who collaborated with Greaney on 2013's Command Authority, would have approved of this solid, fast-paced continuation of his series featuring FBI man Dominic Caruso, an agent with the off-the-books intelligence organization known as "The Campus." Dominic is in India learning the Israeli fighting system Krav Maga from Arik Yacoby, a retired member of the Israeli Defense Forces. After Arik and his family are murdered by unknown terrorists, Dominic vows revenge on those responsible. In America, Ethan Ross, a deputy assistant director in the National Security Council, has been passing secret information to the International Transparency Project, an organization seeking government accountability. The arrogant, narcissistic Ethan loves the feeling of power he gets from intelligence trafficking, but soon finds himself in serious trouble when a member of an elite unit within the Iranian Revolutionary Guards sets in motion a plan to kidnap him and secure his trove of secret information. All these characters wind up in a violent confrontation, with Dominic playing the lead role in taking down the evildoers. Clancy readers will hardly notice that Tom is no longer with us. (July)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Phantoms of Breslau

Marek Krajewski, trans. from the Polish by Danusia Stok. Melville International Crime, $24.95 (288p) ISBN 978-1-61219-272-7

Set in 1919, Krajewski's second Eberhard Mock mystery (after 2013's The End of the World in Breslau) finds Mock, who's assigned to the Breslau Police Praesidium's vice department, transferred to the Murder Commission to assist with a strange case. Some schoolboys on an island discover the corpses of four men, naked except for sailor's hats and leather pouches over their genitals, with their eyes gouged out and limbs broken. The suspicion that the victims may be gay leads Mock's superiors to believe that his experience with the Breslau sexual underworld might be of use. The autopsies reveal that their killer probably broke their arms and legs by jumping up and down on them. A note threatening more "gouged eyes" if Mock does not admit a past mistake raises the stakes. Krajewski does his usual solid job of establishing mood while setting the stage appropriately for a grim and disturbing resolution. (Jan.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Everyone in Their Place: The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi

Maurizio de Giovanni, trans. from the Italian by Antony Shugaar. Europa/World Noir, $16 trade paper (380p) ISBN 978-1-60945-143-1

De Giovanni's second novel featuring Naples Police Commisario Luigi Alfredo Ricciardi (after 2012's I Will Have Vengeance) combines a rare setting for a whodunit, Fascist Italy, with a classic fair play puzzle and a highly unusual lead. After a lyrical and tantalizing opening ("The angel of death made its way through the festa, and nobody noticed"), Ricciardi is introduced—a diligent investigator who keeps to himself, and who, in a startling early reveal, sees the ghosts of murder victims. He's given a fresh crime to solve after Duchess Adriana Musso di Camparino is found in her apartment with a bullet hole in the center of her forehead. The obvious suspect is her not-so-secret lover, Mario Capece, a prominent newspaper editor, whose position in society makes the inquiry a sensitive one. As intriguing as the mystery is, the book's strongest appeal is in its convincing portrayal of life under Mussolini, which included government directives to demobilize crime reporters and bar reporting of stories that could have "an unhealthy effect on the spirits of the mentally weak." (Nov. 2013)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Strange Library

Haruki Murakami, trans. from the Japanese by Ted Goossen. Knopf, $18 (92p) ISBN 978-0-385-35430-1

A boy's routine day at the public library becomes a trip down the rabbit hole in Murakami's (Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage) short novel. The boy meets a demanding old man, who forces him to read the books he's requested in a hidden reading room in the basement. After following the labyrinthine corridors, the boy is led by the old man into a cell, where he must memorize the history of tax collection in the Ottoman Empire. In the bowels of the library, the boy meets a beautiful, mute girl who brings him meals, as well as a subservient sheepman (whom we also meet in Murakami's A Wild Sheep Chase) who fixes the boy crispy doughnuts and clues him in to the old man's sadistic plans. Full-page designs from Chip Kidd divide the sections, bolstering the book's otherworldliness with images from the text alongside mazelike designs and dizzying close-ups of painted faces. This dryly funny, concise fable features all the hallmarks of Murakami's deadpan magic, along with splashes of Lewis Carroll and the brothers Grimm. 32 illus. First printing: 75,000 copies. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Infinite Sea

Rick Yancey. Putnam, $18.99 (320p) ISBN 978-0-399-16242-8

From an explosive start that reveals the boundless malevolence of Yancey's conquering alien Others, this gut-wrenching sequel to The 5th Wave careens on a violent course of nonstop action. Heroine Cassie, renegade soldier Ringer, and fellow survivor Ben have led a band of military camp escapees to a decaying hotel somewhere in Ohio. With winter approaching, they squabble over how to attempt survival, with Ringer questioning whether Cassie's refusal to budge until they know what happened to Evan, who helped them escape but who may be an Other, means she's fallen in love with the enemy. Reversals and double-reversals abound. At one point, Ringer admits to dizziness, a sensation readers may share. "Bluffs inside bluffs, feints within counterfeints. I'm in a game," she says, "in which I don't know the rules or even the object." Despite the gore, inhumanity, and senseless losses, Yancey manages an ending that both shatters and uplifts. While readers may not yet fully understand what the Others are up to, the title, an allusion to a speech made by Shakespeare's Juliet, is a clue to what's driving the survivors: love. Ages 14–up. Agent: Brian DeFiore, DeFiore and Co. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 09/19/2014 | Details & Permalink

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