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The Sand Men

Christopher Fowler. Solaris, $9.99 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78108-374-1

Fowler (Nyctophobia) tackles corporate greed and conspicuous consumption in this suspenseful, unusual story set in and around a luxury Dubai resort. Lea Brook, teen daughter Cara, and husband Roy trade their lives in London for the sterile, landscaped gated community Dream Ranches. It houses top-tier employees of Dream World, which is only months away from opening its opulent doors. At first, the new surroundings are exciting, but Roy works around the clock, Cara is withdrawing, and Lea isn't content to be a good little housewife. When Lea finds out that daughters of Dream World employees have gone missing, and their fathers are killed in workplace "accidents," she starts to dig; but Dubai is a man's world, and no one wants to hear speculation from a "bored" housewife. People suspicious of Dream World start to die, and Lea fears that their delicate, carefully constructed world will soon fall apart. Lea's determination to find out the truth about the missing girls in the face of some very powerful men makes for a harrowing read, and palpable tension builds steadily throughout, all the way to the oddly hopeful, surprising conclusion. (Oct.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Vertigo

Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac, trans. from the French by Geoffrey Sainsbury. Pushkin Vertigo, $13.95 trade paper (192p) ISBN 978-1-78227-080-5

On the eve of WWII, Roger Flavières, the hero of this intricately plotted thriller (the basis for the Hitchcock classic of the same name), has been forced out of the Paris police force because his fear of heights caused him to botch a case. An old friend, the rich industrialist Paul Gévigne, approaches Flavières with a strange proposition: observe and follow his wife, Madeleine, who's recently been acting strangely. Flavières reluctantly agrees, and, of course, can't keep his distance from the entrancing Madeleine. The two strike up an odd friendship, and Flavières thinks it's romance. The two become closer—he even saves her from a possible suicide attempt after she walks into the river—and eventually Madeleine seemingly kills herself by throwing herself off a church tower, while the helpless Flavières watches the whole thing. The detective sinks into a deep depression and leaves the city, just as the war commences. He returns a broken man and encounters a woman whom he swears is his lost love, but who claims to be Renée Sourange. Boileau and Narcejac weave an increasingly clever suspense narrative with a truly inventive take on identity, obsession, and desire. (Sept.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Friends We Keep

Susan Mallery. Mira, $15.99 trade paper (416p) ISBN 978-0-7783-1872-9

Three friends provide encouragement to one another in Mallery's second installment (after The Girls of Mischief Bay) in her Mischief Bay series. The a seaside town in Los Angeles County, Calif., is home to Nicole, Gabby, and Haley. Gabby is mother to five-year-old twin girls, Kenzie and Kennedy, and 15-year-old stepdaughter Makayla. When unforeseen circumstances threaten to prevent her from going back to work after the twins start kindergarten, Gabby and her husband, Andrew, are in total disagreement. Hayley wants nothing more than to be a mother. Despite weakness from miscarriages, she is convinced that she and her husband, Rob, can be parents if only she can get one more chance at carrying a pregnancy to term. Nicole, reeling from a divorce, is not thrilled when her son, Tyler, wins a contest that enables him to meet the creator of his favorite books, Jairus. But things become more complicated when Jairus and Nicole hit it off. Gabby, Haley, and Nicole are down-to-earth real women with whom readers will be able to identify, and Mallery successfully balances each story line. The women's stories and the depth of support they provide one another make this an engaging read to be savored all the way through. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place to Hide

Christian Kiefer. Nouvella, $15 (193p) ISBN 978-0-9913141-3-3

Kiefer's latest (after The Animals) ups the ante on the everyday reading experience. Structured as a "kinoroman"—a blend of novella and documentary script—the part-story, part-interview shadows renowned installation artist Frank Poole, who's creating his most inspired work yet: a pristine Levittown-like subdivision erected in the remote Nevada desert, then sealed for perpetuity like a "an endless closed loop." By his side is his business manager and wife, Caitlin, 15 years his junior, who gave up her own artistic pursuits to be with Frank and is pregnant with their first child. As the narrative/interview progresses and snags in the project arise—lack of funding, irresolvable conflicts with the contractor—Frank's mental state deteriorates as he struggles to reconcile his vision and identity as an artist with becoming a parent. The true heart of the book resides in this section, in which Kiefer expertly blends moments of silence (white space on the page) with spare but weighty prose. Flashbacks to Frank's childhood featuring a mostly absent father, when combined with monologues told from Caitlin's perspective and vivid montages describing some of Frank's early installations (a McDonald's reconstructed inside a man's New York apartment; a strip mall Starbucks with no entrances or exits), paint an eerily intimate portrait of a man trapped inside his head, searching for peace. Though housed inside a tiny package, this curiously engaging meditation on art, love, and time packs a wallop. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Improbable Fortunes

Jeffrey Price. Rare Bird/Archer (SPD, dist.), $24.95 (400p) ISBN 978-1-941729-08-3

Price, a screenwriter who co-wrote Who Framed Roger Rabbit? and How the Grinch Stole Christmas, makes his fiction debut with an exuberant tale of a foundling cowboy—think Tom Jones set in the still-Wild West. Vanadium is a moribund Colorado mining town populated by the "direct descendants of Butch Cassidy's Hole-in-the-Wall Gang, a naturally suspicious and xenophobic lot." An abandoned child, Buster McCaffrey, is rescued by the kindly town sheriff and shuttled among various Vanadium households when each of his foster fathers meet unfortunate ends. The seemingly cursed Buster is slow-witted, ingenuous, romantic, and fundamentally good-natured, a central character around whom the town's entertaining eccentrics, grotesques, benefactors, and love interests revolve. His picaresque travels from adoptive family to family, during which time he undergoes mini-apprenticeships as a tile-maker, concrete mixer, rodeo cowboy, and rancher, are briskly recounted until Buster falls in with a new father figure, Marvin Mallomar, a vacationing multimillionaire so taken with the refreshingly rustic Vanadium that he decides to build a luxurious compound there. As Mallomar uses Vanadium "as a palette for his frustrated creativity," his money floods the town, disastrously and somewhat literally. (The novel begins with a mudslide descending on Vanadium from his estate.) Some comic characters are more unconvincingly drawn than others, and Prince awkwardly shoehorns the mortgage crisis into the story, but on the whole the novel winningly animates a remote boomtown whose inhabitants have never had to struggle to keep it weird. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Ginny Gall

Charlie Smith. Harper, $26.99 (464p) ISBN 978-0-06-225055-1

Smith's brutal, beautifully written novel chronicles how racism in the segregated American South repeatedly derails the future of Delvin Walker, an aspiring writer. Delvin is haunted throughout his life by the memory of his mother, who fled Chattanooga, Tenn., upon being accused of killing a white man. Following her disappearance, Delvin and his siblings are separated and placed in foster care. Delvin's love for reading and storytelling is nurtured when he's taken in at age six by kindly Cornelius Oliver, a well-to-do mortician who hopes to pass his business on to Delvin. The particularly horrific mutilation and murder of a young black man leaves its mark on everyone, and Delvin later leaves Chattanooga, worried about an incident involving guns and some hostile white boys. He begins traveling on the rails and meets a man who calls himself Professor Carmel. Delvin agrees to help him run his mobile museum, which showcases photos of murdered black men. He's working with Carmel when he runs into a northerner named Celia, the first woman for which he pines. All along, Delvin keeps a notebook of his writings and longs to write a proper book. Smith (Men in Miami Hotels) is a master at conjuring evocative images, and his expert wordsmithing makes the brutal third act—in which Delvin is falsely accused and imprisoned—particularly visceral. This unforgettable story hits all the right notes, by turns poignant and devastating. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Theoretical Foot

M.F.K. Fisher. Counterpoint, $25 (304p) ISBN 978-1-61902-614-8

The legendary and incantatory powers of description that earned Fisher (The Gastronomical Me) her fame as one of the 20th century's best prose writers are fully at work in this intricate novel, the discovery of which is almost as romantic a story as the couple at its center (the book was never published in her lifetime and was found in her late agent's effects in 2012). In late August 1938, an unmarried American couple, Tim Garton and Sara Porter, welcome to their lovely Swiss estate of La Prairie a number of expatriates. Their troubles, heartbreaks, worries, and triumphs coalesce around a party that, like the gathering war in the background, acquires undercurrents of tragedy. While points of view alternate among Sara's brother, Dan, and sister, Honor; Tim's literary sister, Nan, and her companion, Lucy; and the young lovers Joe and Susan—all of whom are trying to escape some spell of love—the contrapuntal vignettes of an anonymous man suffering agonies from an amputated leg make the wistful longings of the other characters seem dreamy by comparison. Tim and Sara are the steady, sphinx-like, yet essential pair, loosely based on Fisher and the "one true love" of her own life, who hold the others in orbit about them. Readers longing for the clever banter of Hemingway's characters or the indolent gloss of a Fitzgerald story will adore the book's modernist style, in which the action focuses on each passing thought, each turn of emotion, each detail of drink or cigarette with an extraordinary attention that makes the ordinary seem simultaneously bewildering, mysterious, and absurd. This is a worthy addition to the Fisher canon. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Calloustown

George Singleton. Dzanc (Consortium, dist.), $15.95 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-938103-16-2

Rich characterization is the highlight of this vivid collection of 15 short stories about life in a small South Carolina town. Singleton's stirring examination of the unusual Calloustown residents is filled with fresh, surprising, and striking descriptions that are at once sweet, odd, sad, and humorous. In "These Deep Barbs Irremovable," large-breasted Adazee is described as having a "scoliosistic future teeming with greedy chiropractors and hyperbolic support-brassiere manufacturers." This and similar descriptions of characters rife with flaws, and a town so dismal that "General Sherman swerved away" because "he didn't see it fit to waste fire on," endear them to the reader and make the town charming in its own way. Told mostly in first person by an older male narrator who often references his wife, the stories are connected by people and places, such as Worm and his watering hole called Worm's. Singleton captures truisms about human behavior: in "When It's Q&A Time," young Reed is able to keep quiet about his shocking interaction with a neighbor, but he doesn't hesitate to air his father's dirty laundry. Singleton's collection offers a refreshing and engaging perspective on a small town's humanity. (Nov.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Delilah Dirk and the King's Shilling

Tony Cliff. First Second, $17.99 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-62672-155-5

What should have been a leisurely dip in a quiet pond instead lands globetrotting adventurer Delilah Dirk and her partner, Selim, in the middle of a political conspiracy in this follow-up to 2013's Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant. The roots of their newfound predicament lie in England, currently embroiled in a bitter war with France, and involve a slimy major in the British Army who is tarnishing Delilah's reputation to obscure his own treachery. Despite Selim's reasoned warnings, Delilah itches for revenge; once in London, she's forced to endure her aristocratic mother, who is unaware of her daughter's wayward lifestyle. Can Delilah and Selim keep her secret safe while investigating the major, all without causing too much trouble? Cliff ups his game visually with a more nuanced and naturalistic style, and he doesn't miss a beat story-wise, keeping the swashbuckling front and center while adding new layers to his characters. It's the dynamic between Delilah and Selim, a headstrong woman and pliant man who remain platonic companions, that gives the book its compelling emotional center. Ages 12–up. Agent: Bernadette Baker-Baughman, Victoria Sanders & Associates. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Lady Midnight

Cassandra Clare. S&S/McElderry, $24.99 (720p) ISBN 978-1-4424-6835-1

Clare returns to her Shadowhunters world with this enjoyable if drawn-out tale. Set in contemporary Los Angeles, it centers on Emma Carstairs, a Shadowhunter adopted by members of the Blackthorn family who, like her, were orphaned in the Dark War five years earlier. Emma has become parabatai or sworn companion to Julian, the oldest Blackthorn boy living at the local Institute, where Shadowhunters live and train. When humans and faeries start turning up dead, covered in mysterious runes like those found on the bodies of Emma's parents, she and Julian investigate, accompanied by Julian's disoriented older brother Mark, recently returned after having been stolen by the faeries years before. Having been gradually revealed in nine previous novels, the Shadowhunter universe is complex, jargon-rich, and a bit unwieldy, but Clare's well-developed protagonists (each a fragile combination of heroic warrior and teenage neurotic), pell-mell action sequences, complicated family dynamics, and fascinating magic system continue to engage. This first volume in the Dark Artifices trilogy should easily please Clare's existing fans, but newcomers will want to begin with the Mortal Instruments. Ages 14–up. Agent: Barry Goldblatt, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 02/12/2016 | Details & Permalink

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