For those of you getting a very early start on your next summer reading list, we have a suggestion: Canada, the first novel in more than five years from Pulitzer Prize-winning author Richard Ford. Ford's new publisher, Ecco, an imprint of HarperCollins, has set a May 22, 2012, publication date for the long-awaited novel.

Judging from the book's opening lines, Canada will have us hooked right from the start:

“First, I’ll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then the murders, which happened later.”

The novel is narrated by 15-year-old Dell Parsons, who flees his Montana home after his parents are arrested for robbing a bank. He ends up on the plains of southern Saskatchewan, taken in by a "charismatic" American who is more sinister than he appears. As the book's first sentences foreshadow, there are violent events in Dell's future as he attempts to make sense of his parents' criminal acts and his place in the world.

Ford has said the Canadian setting plays a significant role in the novel, which has been in the works for more than 20 years. He told Canada's National Post newspaper last year that he has been drawn to the country since he first visited in 1961, as a teenager.

The new book is a departure from the Frank Bascombe trilogy for which Ford is best known: The Sportswriter, Independence Day (winner of the 1996 Pulitzer Prize for fiction) and The Lay of the Land. After almost two decades with Knopf, where he worked with acclaimed editor Gary Fisketjon, Ford signed a three-book deal with HarperCollins in 2008. Canada will be his first book with the HarperCollins imprint.

Are you a Richard Ford fan? Are you looking forward to his next book?

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