Just after well-known British mystery writer Ruth Rendell died in May of this year, at the age of 85, her life and talents were described in the media with words like “brilliant,” “discomfiting” and “challenging.” Readers who’ve long been gripped by Rendell’s imaginative crime fiction, however, knew that already. From her popular Chief Inspector Wexford series with such hallmarks as the top-notch An Unkindness of Ravens and Not in the Flesh, to standalone classics like A Dark Adapted Eye (as Barbara Vine) and A Judgment in Stone, right up to her last, Dark Corners, the author’s unsettling prose has always attracted legions of readers.
In 1952, Barcelona trembles beneath the oppressive, tyrannical regime of Franco’s fascist party. Ana Marti, a young journalist sick of detailing debutantes’ fashions and high-society scandals, gets her big break when socialite Mariona Sobrerroca is brutally murdered in the exclusive upper part of the city. Ana’s shocked to be assigned such an important case, but she holds her ground while working with Barcelona’s finest detective, Isidro Castro, despite his misogynistic grumblings about working with a woman.
Several years ago, after researching his true crime book The Serial Killer’s Apprentice, James Renner was diagnosed with PTSD. It’s not uncommon for journalists to suffer such effects after witnessing trauma for a story, and Renner’s 10 years of hunting serial killers and writing about unsolved murders caught up with him. Fiction provided an unexpected safe haven, and his genre-bending time-travel thriller, The Man from Primrose Lane (2012), was a crime he could finally solve. His latest thriller, The Great Forgetting, digs at a much larger mystery, one with more questions, no generic answers and therefore plenty of room for an imaginative author to play. The result is a mix of conspiracy theorist paranoia, alternate history and cross-country adventure.
It takes a bold author to write about an event which is so historically hazy that even the novel’s narrator wonders, “How many people even remember it?”
Violinist Julia Ansdell is the troubled heroine of Playing with Fire, a haunting new literary suspense novel by Tess Gerritsen, the best-selling author of the Rizzoli & Isles series and a number of standalone thrillers such as The Bone Garden and Harvest.
In The Hours Count, Jillian Cantor revisits a pivotal moment in American history and asks: What if Ethel and Julius Rosenberg—the only Americans to ever be executed for spying during the Cold War—were actually innocent?
Writers have been known to embellish facts for dramatic purposes. A possible embellishment provides part of the drama of Twain & Stanley Enter Paradise, the final novel by Oscar Hijuelos. This posthumous work, set in the late 19th and early 20th century, is more restrained than previous Hijuelos books, including the Pulitzer Prize winner The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love. And the protagonists are as un-Hijuelos as you can get: Mark Twain and Henry Morton Stanley, the Welsh explorer who achieved fame for his search for David Livingstone.
In John Irving’s 14th novel, aging Mexican-American novelist Juan Diego Guerrero travels from his home in Iowa to the Philippines. He plans to fulfill a decades-old promise he made to a Vietnam draft dodger to honor a father killed during World War II, and takes a former writing student as his tour guide. En route to Manila, he is overtaken and seduced by a ghostly mother-daughter duo: fans of Juan Diego’s novels, who will reappear in unexpected, -sexually-charged moments throughout his journey. Going on and off his blood pressure medications, he travels in an almost hallucinatory state. He dreams.
In lesser hands, the story told in Mary Gaitskill’s The Mare would be sentimental or even clichéd. An emotionally needy white woman takes in a tough inner-city girl whose life is transformed when she learns to ride horses at the neighboring stables. Cue the swelling music as the girl and horse ride into the sunset. But Gaitskill, whose novels and short stories have always delved full force into the most uncomfortable of situations, has instead produced a complex and nuanced look at love, loss and limitations.
The Works Progress Administration of the 1930s and ’40s was a savior for American artists. Those meager checks alleviated financial concerns enough that the artists could pay rent and spend their off-hours drinking, cavorting and exploring their artistic passions.