In the opening chapter of Bird Cloud, Annie Proulx’s first book of nonfiction in 20 years, she admits that “observational skills are part of who I am.” She uses those skills to make this chronicle of building her dream house—with its attendant nightmares—into something much more complex. It’s as though she’s walking through the rooms of Bird Cloud, her home on 640 acres of Wyoming wetlands and prairie, opening some doors a crack, throwing others wide. She lets us glimpse her early life, when her family moved at least 20 times, and her family history—her father’s French-Canadian background, her mother’s solid New England roots. She shares her love and deep knowledge of the plants and animals in this part of Wyoming: golden eagles, bluebirds, elk, deer, marauding cows and more. A master of evoking place, her unique mix of the spare and the lyrical is at its most powerful here. Proulx reads the opening chapter, taking you into her world, and Joan Allen continues, never breaking the mood.
 


“Exitus Acta Probat”
 
They should never have been in that secure room in the National Archives, but Beecher White, a bright young archivist, wanted to impress Clementine, a girl he’d had a crush on in eighth grade and hadn’t seen in years. And when a cup of coffee spilled and they panicked, dislodging a hidden 18th-century book from its hiding place, they should never have opened it. But they did, and it opened a Pandora’s box of intrigue, deception, conspiracy and counter-conspiracy. In less than an hour, the guard who had let them into “the vault” was dead and Beecher was in mortal danger. That’s for openers in The Inner Circle, Brad Meltzer’s latest cleverly plotted, historically detailed, race-paced thriller that supposes an undercover ring of spies devoted to every president since George Washington. I was rooting for Beecher all the way, happy to know that he’ll be back as this series (a first for Meltzer) progresses. Scott Brick, always an able narrator, is at his best, giving Beecher compelling dimensions and ratcheting up the tension.
 


Audio of the Month
 
The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino, one of Japan’s best-selling novelists, is a superb example of a literary thriller: offbeat, haunting, tense and troubling. Protecting her teenage daughter from her reprobate ex-husband, Yasuko, a single mother and former bar hostess, kills him. Her neighbor, Mr. Ishigami, hears it all and immediately comes to their aid, constructing an airtight alibi for mother and daughter and disposing of the body. So the question isn’t who did it, but why Ishigami, a math genius living an isolated life, would use his prodigious logic to protect Yasuko, whom he barely knows. Told with cool simplicity—no subplots, no digging into the protagonists’ pasts—Higashino’s “just the facts, ma’am” style belies his brilliant evocation of Ishigami as he enters into a cat-and-mouse battle of wits with a former acquaintance, a super-smart physics professor who is the only man able to fathom the depths of the mathematician’s devotion. David Pittu is an amazingly skillful narrator, brushing the dialogue with an almost imperceptible hint of an accent, subtly building suspense as the inevitable end looms.
 

 

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