Looking for an especially meaty thriller to dive into this summer? Terry Hayes may have just the novel for you with I Am Pilgrim; weighing in at 640 pages, Hayes offers up a page-turner with plenty of muscle. A retired intelligence officer for a U.S. organization far more secret than the CIA, known simply as Pilgrim, has penned a game-changing textbook on criminal investigation that has brought police investigation miles ahead of where it once was. But there's a problem—a particularly ruthless someone seems to have read it a bit too well, and may have committed the perfect unsolvable murder.
Humble, yet tough-as-nails homicide detective Ben Bradley tracks Pilgrim down in the streets of Paris to beg for his help in the investigation, and soon the action takes off at a breathtaking pace. From Moscow to the United Kingdom, from Saudi Arabia to the dusty streets of Afghanistan and back home to the U.S., the manhunt for a brilliant terrorist known as "the Saracen" tests everything Pilgrim has learned in the field.
For almost a decade I was a member of our country's most secret intelligence organization, working so deep in shadow that only a handful of people even knew of our existence. The agency's task was to police our country's intelligence community, to act as the covert world's internal affairs department. To that extent, you might say, we were a throwback to the Middle Ages. We were the ratcatchers.
Although the number of people employed by the twenty-six publicly acknowledge–and eight unnamed—US intelligence organizations is classified, it is reasonable to say that over one hundred thousand people came within our orbit. A population that size meant the crimes we investigated ran the gamut-from treason to corruption, murder to rape, drug dealing to theft. The only difference was that some of the perpetrators were the best and brightest of the world.
The group entrusted with this elite and highly classified mission was established by Jack Kennedy in the early months of his administration. After a particularly lurid scandal at the CIA—the details of which still remain secret—he apparently decided members of the intelligence community were as subject to human frailty as the population in general. More so probably.
What are you reading this week?
Are you set for vacation reading this summer? If not, we're here to help! Follow the flowchart below to your ultimate summer read. Click on the graphic for an interactive version that will lead you more information about each book, or download it here.
What are you reading this summer?
Short stories make for perfect reading in the summer. Since each one is a self-contained dose of literature, you barely even need a bookmark—plus, there's no worrying about whether you'll remember what you read on the flight over when you reopen the book on the way back. If you're looking for a bite-sized dose of summer reading, explore our guide to 2014's spring and summer collections.
Readers looking for a voice from a very different world should pick up Hassan Blasim's The Corpse Exhibition (Penguin). Compared to Roberto Bolaño and Borges, this Arabic author sets the stories in his debut collection during the Iraq War—and they're told from the Iraqi perspective. If you want a collection that will test your beliefs and haunt your dreams, this might be your pick.
Another collection that features a distinctive cross-cultural voice is Snow in May (Holt), the first book from author Kseniya Melnik. Melnik was born in Russia and emigrated to Alaska as a teen, and the stories featured here are connected through her hometown of Madagan, a port city in the Far East of Russia that was a stopover on the way to Stalin's gulags. Spanning the later half of the 20th century and geographical locations from Madagan to Fargo, these stories plumb the weight of history and the struggle to reconcile where you come from with where you are now.
Those interested in coming-of-age stories and tricky relationship dynamics will enjoy the linked stories in Polly Dugan's debut collection, So Much a Part of You (Little, Brown). Featuring characters that reappear across decades, the book explores the way that relationships—romantic and otherwise—change over time. When Anne inadvertently dates her best friend's high school boyfriend, the same mistake destroys both relationships. A student's one-night stand changes her college life. And a deathbed revelation spurs forgiveness. Utterly real and insightful.
Inappropriate Behavior by Murray Farish (Milkweed Editions) is a much wider-randing collection, spanning decades and countries in stories linked only by the strange twists each one takes. The delusional narrator of one story is addicted to making lists, stalking a girl called Allison and writing love songs to Jodie Foster. In the title story, parents struggle with the dual burdens of unemployment and a child with behavior issues. Occasionally experimental, always imaginative.
Another edgy collection comes from Scottish author James Kelman, whose novel How Late It Was, How Late won the Booker Prize in 1994. The stories in If it Is Your Life (Other Press) are mostly written with the stream-of-consciousness style and dark humor that Kelman is known for, and they're a bit more outré than his novels. But readers who like to read about lives lived on the edge will be excited for this new collection.
Take a nostalgic trip back to your childhood (at least, if you're a child of the late 80s like me!) with a newly published collection of Lois Duncan's short stories, Written in the Stars (Lizzie Skurnick Books). The author of teen classics like I Know What You Did Last Summer, Duncan has collected 13 tales from her very early career—including a story she published when she was only 13 years old—and includes a brief contemporary commentary on each one. As you might expect of stories that originally appeared in places like Seventeen or American Girl, these are mostly focused on the concerns of youth, but the glimpse they provide into the shaping of a young writer are fascinating.
Another familiar name with a new collection is David Guterson. The author of Snow Falling on Cedars returns with the playfully titled Problems with People (Knopf), which branches out from the author's typical Pacific Northwest territory to encompass most of the U.S. as well as Nepal and Africa. Though diverse in locale, these 10 tales are united by Guterson's strong storytelling voice and will be a welcome addition to the bookshelves of his fans.
And we'll end with another collection from a beloved voice: Elizabeth McCracken's Thunderstruck (Dial). Though most of these nine stories have been previously published in some of the best short fiction venues—Granta, The New Yorker—taken together, they demonstrate McCracken's remarkable range as well as her ability to truly understand the her characters and her quirky sense of humor (the title story opens with a 12-year-old girl being brought home by the police from a nitrous oxide party).
The City by Dean Koontz
Bantam, $28, ISBN 9780345545930
On sale July 1, 2014
Dean Koontz has long been known for providing thrills and chills to readers, but his new novel The City is something of an exception. Set in the 1960s and 1970s, it tells the story of Jonah Kirk, growing up as part of a close family in a nameless city and dreaming of becoming a "piano man." Jonah becomes a remarkable boy mostly thanks to his remarkable mother, who gave up her own dreams of attending Oberlin to have and raise him without much help from Jonah's ne'er do well father. Their close relationship is a highlight of the book, as shown in this excerpt, which takes place shortly after Jonah's mother has thrown his father out for good.
After school that day, I walked to the community center to practice piano. When I got home, all she said was, "Your father's no longer living here. He went upstairs to help Miss Delvane with her rodeo act, and I wasn't having any of that."
Too young to sift the true meaning of her words, I found the idea of a mechanical horse more fascinating than ever and hoped I might one day see it. My mother's Reader's Digest condensation of my father's leaving didn't satisfy my curiousity. I had many questions but I refrained from asking them. . . . Right then I told Mom the secret I couldn't have revealed when Tilton lived with is, that I had been taking piano lessons from Mrs. O'Toole for more than two months. She hugged me and got teary and apologized, and I didn't understand what she was apologizing for. She said it didn't matter if I understood, all that mattered was that she would never again allow anyone or anything to get between me and a piano and any other dream I might have.
What are you reading this week?
Tom Rob Smith is back with a new novel of "deep, dark family secrets, long-buried crimes and shocking revelations" in The Farm. Daniel's parents decide to sell their London home and relocate to a remote farm in Sweden for a leisurely, peaceful life.
Yet this ideal is quickly shattered when Daniel's mother suffers a mental collapse shortly after: She's delusional, and she's imagining truly horrific things. But soon Daniel's mother offers a different view, and she pins the blame on his father, whom she insists is part of a violent conspiracy.
Daniel takes on the task of investigating the farm himself, and Smith's thrilling, genre-defying page-turner brilliantly unfolds.
Smith's internationally acclaimed thriller, Child 44, has already been adapted for the big screen starring big-name actors Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace and Gary Oldman, and we're betting on Smith becoming a household name in no time.
Watch the hypnotising and haunting trailer from Simon & Schuster UK below:
What do you think, readers? Has The Farm made it onto your list of Summer reads?
Ah, summer vacations. The crowds. The traffic. The high gas prices and/or airfare. The long waits at airport security. The HEAT. These are the reasons that I, like any sensible person, schedule my yearly trips for spring or fall. But once my Instagram and Facebook feeds start filling up with waterfront photos, I confess to craving a little more escapism in my fiction. If you've got the staycation blues, here are 10 books with creative settings that will take you a world away . . . even if you're still in your easy chair.
Killed at the Whim of a Hat by Colin Cotterill. Cotterill has made a name for himself with offbeat mysteries set in East Asia. The first in a new series, Killed provides "a beautifully crafted look at life with a Thai twist," not to mention a hero named Sticky Rice. Escapism, indeed!
The Ruins by Scott Smith. Got friends visiting Mexico? Well, that trip will seem a lot less desirable after reading Smith's dark, suspenseful story of four friends whose excursion to a Mayan temple doesn't go exactly as planned.
Tigers in Red Weather by Liza Klaussmann. This debut takes you away in place and time—and throws in a murder to boot. Set in a wealthy enclave on Martha's Vineyard (is there any other sort of enclave on Martha's Vineyard?), it follows two families whose fortunes and fates are changed by World War II—and by one fateful night.
The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden by Jonas Jonasson. The titular hero of Jonasson's quirky second novel goes around the world and back again on a madcap journey from 1960s Soweto to modern-day Sweden that will thrill fans of Forrest Gump or François Lelord.
Beach House No. 9 by Christie Ridgway. The first installment of Ridgway's best-selling series set in coastal California is a sexy and sun-kissed escape that follows the slowly developing romance of a memoirist and the woman sent to help him finish his latest publishing project.
The Red House by Mark Haddon. If you're stuck at home idealizing the "family summer vacation" thing, here's your antidote. Told in multiple voices, Haddon's creative third novel from adults is set in a cottage in Wales, where a family reunion slowly falls apart.
The Vacationers by Emma Straub. Longing for a taste of Europe? Straub's second novel follows a family on a visit to the idyllic island of Mallorca, off the coast of Spain. But amid the olive trees, family drama lurks.
The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. An isolated lighthouse off the Australian coast, on an island full of natural wonders, is the setting for Stedman's debut, which follows the consequences of a couple's morally ambiguous decision to raise a foundling child as their own.
The Girl with No Shadow by Joanne Harris. Is there anyone out there who would turn down a trip to Paris? I didn't think so. Take one in this sequel to the bestseller Chocolat, which finds chocolatier Vianne Rocher and her daughters living in Montmartre and opening shop in the big city.
Maine by J. Courtney Sullivan. This second novel from Sullivan is set on the Maine coast, which is as lovingly detailed as the family drama between the characters, who are visiting a weather-worn beachfront cottage packed with memories.
Have you read any books with a memorable setting lately? Share in the comments!
P.S. Enter this week's Monday contest for a chance to win two of these books, plus more great armchair travel reads.
In a special post in honor of Father's Day, Well Read columnist Robert Weibezahl shares memories of his own father and his Top 10 books featuring father-and-son relationships.
Along with my name and my rueful skepticism, I acquired from my father a love of reading. He was an avid reader, and to my enduring envy, a natural speed reader who could devour a book quickly without sacrificing an iota of comprehension. His taste in reading was different from what mine would become, more escapist than literary. My childhood memories are of him reading sea stories (he was a dedicated boatman himself), spy thrillers (my childhood years aligned exactly with the ascendency of James Bond), and brawny Westerns. Yet it is not what he read that left its mark on me, it is the fact that he read. I took on the habit without questioning its source, just as, say, a son invariably roots for the same team as his father without stopping to consider the virtues of its rivals.
Family lore recalls how when my father was young he could remain completely engrossed in a book even while fishing. My grandfather would be irked when his inattentive son would still manage to catch all the fish. A more personal memory for me: riding bicycles with my father and sister to the public library on a warm summer’s evening to check out books. My father, a talented woodworker, also built many of the bookcases that still house my own personal collection.
As my father declined from the effects of Parkinson’s Disease, he was no longer able to retain what he read long enough to enjoy a book. I know that was just one of many frustrations his condition brought with it. This is my first Father’s Day since my dad left us last December and, inevitably, I have been thinking a lot about him, and about fathers and sons in general. There are countless books that center on this most primal of relationships, of course, from such 19th-century classics as Turgenev’s Fathers and Son and Dickens’ Dombey and Son (a lot of Dickens, like much of Shakespeare, is about fathers and sons) to Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic The Road.
Compiling my own short list of memorable books about fathers and sons took me to those aforementioned bookcases. Here, in alphabetical order, are 10 that have in some way provoked or moved me as a reader. Admittedly, many of the father-son connections in them are problematic (there’s no drama without conflict, after all), but all are illuminating:
All My Sons by Arthur Miller. Miller, of course, wrote searingly about fathers and sons in Death of a Salesman. This tragedy, written two years earlier, offers an emotionally brutal appraisal of the American Dream.
Atticus by Ron Hansen. Its title a nod to one of the most famous and faultless fathers in literature, this elegiac tale of redemption tells of a Colorado rancher who travels to Mexico to retrieve the body of his estranged son, who has purportedly committed suicide.
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh. Though not the central relationships in the book, the father-son pairings—between Charles Ryder and his emotionally remote father and Sebastian Flyte and the sinning Lord Marchmain—add texture to the story and no small measure of insight into these two young men’s inner conflicts.
Cloudsplitter by Russell Banks. This monumental, fictionalized version of the life of the mythic abolitionist John Brown is told by his son Owen, who survives the raid at Harpers Ferry with equal measures of anger and guilt.
East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Structured loosely around the first family of Genesis, Steinbeck’s powerful work is a timeless portrait of the conflicts between father and sons and brothers.
Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. An extended letter from a 76-year-old preacher to his 7-year-old son, this Pulitzer Prize winning novel explores the struggles, faith, and conflicts encountered by four generations of men in the Ames family.
The Lost Language of Cranes by David Leavitt. One of the most eloquent “coming out” novels; Leavitt creates some surprising family dynamics with sensitivity and insight.
The Mosquito Coast by Paul Theroux. The story of a slightly deranged father who uproots his family and moves to the jungle is told with affecting admiration and confusion by his 14-year-old son.
The Shadow of the Wind by Carols Ruiz Zafón. A young boy is taken to the Cemetery of Forgotten Books by his widowed bookseller father, launching an intriguing metaphysical mystery about familial identity and our connections with the past.
The Weight of Heaven by Thrity Umrigar. After losing their son, Frank Benton and his wife move to a small coastal village in India, where the grieving father takes the son of their servants under his wing with heartbreaking consequences.
Courtney Maum's debut novel, I Am Having So Much Fun Here Without You asks a heart-wrenching question: Can you fall back in love with your spouse?
Seven years have passed since Richard Haddon, a well-known British artist, met his stunning French wife, Anne. The passion and fierce devotion the couple shared has faded, and when Anne learns of her husband's affair with an American, she kicks him out of their home, leaving Richard to discover the full weight of his mistakes.
Maum's portrayal of a modern marriage on the rocks is honest and touching, with plenty of wit to spare.
Watch the trailer below:
What do you think, readers?
Yesterday the winner of the 2014
Orange Bailey's Prize for Women's Fiction was announced, and it was a bit of a dark horse: debut author Eimear McBride's modernist masterpiece, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing.
The Irish author, who is 38, snagged the prize despite a highly competitive shortlist that included Jhumpa Lahiri, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Donna Tartt, as well as the acclaimed debut Burial Rites.
Published in the Commonwealth last year, A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing is a challenging stream-of-consciouness narrative, told from the perspective of a young girl, that proved a tough sell: McBride spent most of a decade shopping it around before finding a home with Norwich's Galley Beggar Press. But its vital, visceral voice—one UK reviewer called the book "an instant classic"—proved impossible for the judges to ignore.
In her announcement, judge chair Helen Fraser called the book, “An amazing and ambitious first novel that impressed the judges with its inventiveness and energy. This is an extraordinary new voice—this novel will move and astonish the reader.”
A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing will be published in the U.S. in September by Coffee House Press. Will you read it?
Loosely based on the love triangle between famed anthropologist Margaret Mead, her husband and her lover, Lily King's Euphoria creates its own lush world within the 1930s Territory of New Guinea.
Besot by feelings of futility and loneliness, Andrew Bankson is rudderless as he plods through his research with the Kiona tribe on the Sepik river. However, a chance meeting with the newly famous anthropologist Nell Stone and her brash husband, Fen, ignites in him a sense of urgency and passion he thought he had lost. Desperate to keep his enthusiasm alive, and equally desperate for companions, he sets the couple up down river with a unique tribe, the Tam, in which the power belongs to the females. Bankson is drawn to the couple with a need he is powerless to fight, and that need quickly narrows in on Nell. It becomes apparent that his anthropological focus has shifted from the tribe he came to study to the strange couple that has landed downriver.
The air of impending doom rolls through the pages of Euphoria like a thunderhead, and when the storm breaks, everyone is irrevocably changed. King convincingly captures the hyper-focused reality of the three anthropologists: their work, their longings and the increasingly intense and intimate relationship between the trio. Each is driven by their own obsession: Nell wants knowledge, Fen wants power and Bankson wants Nell. These three desires cannot exist harmoniously for long, and the consequences are dire.
Fen asked to drive the boat so I slowed and we wobbily swapped places. He opened up the throttle and we were off— fast.
'Fen!' Nell screeched, but she was half laughing. She turned around to face us and her knees brushed my shins. 'I can't watch. Tell me when we're about to crash.' Her hair, no longer plaited, blew toward me. The fever and loose hair, dark brown with threads of copper and gold, had brought an illusion of great health to her face.
If the Tam weren't a good fit, they would go to Australia. This was my last chance to get it right. And I could tell she was skeptical. But Teket had been many times to the Tam to visit his cousin there, and even if everything he told me were only half true, I figured it should satisfy this pair of picky anthropologists. 'I should have brought you here straightaway.' I said, not entirely meaning to say it aloud. 'It was selfish of me.'
She smiled, and instructed Fen not to kill us before we got there.