Indiscretion by Charles Dubow
Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780062201058
On sale February 5, 2013
And what a page-turner it is. The plot follows the life of a seemingly perfect woman who is married to a National Book Award-winning author. They spend their summers in a lovely cottage in East Hampton; life is good. Early in the novel, they take a young woman, Claire, under their wings, and she comes to adore Harry and Maddy. Claire's very sad when the summer is over, but that winter she comes back into their lives with a vengeance, and nothing is ever the same . . .
The editor's letter compares Indiscretion to The Great Gatsby. Though the storytelling here doesn't have the elegance of Fitzgerald's classic (what does?), the plot does follow the same sort of tortured upper-class characters who experience a tragic fall from grace. If you like reading about glamorous lifestyles and the split-second choices that can upend a person's life, then this book is for you.
In the novel, the narrator is Maddy's best friend, Walter, an observer of the summer's activities and all that comes after. Here's an early scene:
Labor Day. The summer's last hurrah. Already night is falling earlier. Autumn is waiting on the doorstep. People bring sweaters when they go out in the evening.
Claire is driving with me. She has been out every weekend. She is now one of the gang, part of a nucleus that never changes even when minor characters drift in and out at restaurants, cocktail parties, lazy afternoons at the Winslows' or at the beach, nights playing charades, sailing in my little sailboat, Johnny's ninth birthday, skinny-dipping in the ocean, or sitting under the stars listening to Verdi. We are all tan. [...]
I am deposing her. Where she was born, where she lived, where she went to college, what she studied, why she does what she does, who she is. My right hand itches for a yellow legal pad to scratch it all down, but I will remember it well enough.
She is a willing witness, her tongue loosened by gin. And I am on my best behavior, not aggressive, but solicitous, empathetic. She tells me about her father, her French mother, her younger brother, who lives in California, where he works for a software company. But I also know witnesses have their own motivations. They will lie, or twist facts, if they have to. They can be resentful or closed, releasing only the most meager information. Others want me to like them thinking that will color my interpretation of the law.
And it is clear that Claire wants me to like her. Not romantically, alas. No, she is too easy around me for that. Instead, she treats me the way one would treat a prospective employer.
Working in collaboration with Dr. Bill Bass, the forensic anthropologist who founded the Body Farm at the University of Tennessee, Jon writes the best-selling series of Body Farm novels. The latest—The Inquisitor’s Key—came out today. In the May issue of BookPage, Whodunit columnist Bruce Tierney called the novel "both thought-provoking and eminently plausible as the book races toward its unexpected (and highly original!) resolution." Read an excerpt of the novel on the authors' Facebook page.
The importance of setting
guest post by Jon Jefferson
I must be the world’s slowest learner. It took me seven novels to learn what is surely Rule #1 of book research, at least in the rulebooks of smarter writers: Set your novel in a fabulous place, so you can take a fabulous research junket!
Consider novel #1 in the Body Farm series of mysteries, Carved in Bone. Setting: Cocke County, TN, beautiful but hard-scrabble hill country in East Tennessee, where anyone driving a car with an out-of-county license tag is considered fair game—and where hunting season opens at sundown. I set one scene of Carved in Bone at a cockfight, and because I knew nothing about cockfighting, I arranged, through a friend of a friend, to take a Cocke County field trip—with a veteran cockfighter named Rick—to the Del Rio cockpit, one of the oldest and biggest cockfighting operations in the nation. (“But wait,” you might be thinking, “isn’t cockfighting illegal?” Yes, dear reader; yes it is. But the Del Rio cockpit had apparently forged a special, decades-long friendship with the Cocke Co. Sheriff’s Office.)
The fights took place in a gymnasium-sized building, with a large central arena—the pit—surrounded bleacher-style seating for 300 or so. Tucked at one end of the building was a concession stand selling drinks, burgers, fries, and—with no apparent sense of irony—chicken fingers. I spent a deeply disturbing afternoon in Del Rio, watching roosters tear one another to tatters, their natural spurs augmented with strapped-on knives and spikes. Before and even during each fight, spectators would call out amounts they wanted to wager on one or the other of the roosters (“50 on the red!”; “hunnerd on the white!”). After an hour or so, I’d seen all I needed to see—and all I could stand to watch. On the way back to my car, I passed a pickup truck whose bed was filled with the bodies of dead roosters.
Fast-forward six books and six years, to April 2011, when I found myself standing on a rooftop in France, looking down on the lovely city of Avignon, the setting for novel #7. The book, The Inquisitor’s Key, weaves together the stories of a heretic-obsessed medieval Inquisitor and an Apocalypse-obsessed televangelist, both of them driven to murder in the name of God. The conservator of the Palace of the Popes—the biggest Gothic palace in Europe—had agreed to give me a private tour of the place, which was built to house a series of French popes in the 14th century. She took me up winding spiral staircases to the tops of battlement-topped towers; down into the treasure-chamber, with its false floor; through bedchambers and chapels whose frescoed walls were adorned with scenes of miracles and saints—and falconers, fishermen and stag-hunters. In the days that followed, I threaded the labyrinthine streets within Avignon’s medieval city wall for hours on end. I knew the trip to Avignon was only a beginning; I knew I’d be spending months poring over books on Avignon, both medieval and modern: its popes and inquisitors, painters and poets, cops and killers.
Leaving the Palace that first day, I exited through the gift shop and wine-cellar. There, I drank a toast to the architectural, artistic and narrative treasure-trove of Avignon—and to my new-found skill in the art of choosing book settings.
Next stop? Florence and Venice. What’s the story? I’ve no idea . . . but I won’t leave Italy until I find it!
Watch a book trailer for The Inquisitor's Key:
The Most Dangerous Thing by Laura Lippman
Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061706516
on sale August 23, 2011
In general, I prefer stand-alone suspense novels to series, so I was thrilled to learn that Lippman has a September book coming out that is indeed a stand alone—and not part of her series about Baltimore PI Tess Monaghan.
The Most Dangerous Thing alternates between the present and the 1970s. It's about five childhood friends who come together again after one of their group dies in a car accident . . . and a secret comes out.
Here's an early scene from the friend's funeral:
Gwen was spared funerals as a child and accepted this practice, as she accepted so many of her parents' practices, as the inarguably right thing to do. Certainly, it never occurred to her to bring Annabelle to Go-Go's visitation, and she is shocked to see how many young children are here. More disturbing, they are gathered around the open casket, inspecting Go-Go with a respectful but palpable excitement. A dead person! This is what a dead person looks like! In the fact of their bravery, how can Gwen not come forward and look as well?
A dead person this may well be, but it is not the boy she remembers and not only because he is thirty years older than the Go-Go who lives in her memory. This person is too still, his features too composed. Go-Go was never still.
"Gwen." Doris Halloran holds her hands tightly, peers into her face, as if nearsighted. "Pretty little Gwen. You look wonderful."
She does? She doesn't feel as if she looks wonderful. True, she is thin. She has no appetite as of late. But she is pretty sure that the lack of food has made her face gaunt, her hair dull and dry. Then again, maybe it's all relative. She looks better than Go-Go, for example. And better than Mrs. Halloran, whose face is white and puffy in a way that cannot be explained by mere grieving. Her eyes are like little raisins deep in an uncooked loaf, her mouth ringed by wrinkles.
The Pioneer Woman:
Black Heels to Tractor Wheels
by Ree Drummond
William Morrow • $25.99 • ISBN 9780061997167
On sale February 1, 2011
It's no secret that I'm a big fan of the Pioneer Woman, aka Ree Drummond. I've enjoyed making her recipes for a couple of years now; I'm fascinated by her city-girl-to-country-girl story; and last year I braved the crowd at her cookbook signing in Nashville. I even went to the gym just so I could watch her recent throwdown with Bobby Flay. (Who knew that not having cable could lead to more exercise? Who knew that watching a cooking demonstration while on the treadmill will make a person drool even more than watching it on the couch?)
And this weekend, I get to meet Pioneer Woman in person. On her family's ranch in Oklahoma. (Cue hyperventilating.)
I'll be taking lots of pictures, shooting video and chatting with PW about her memoir, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels.
You can already read a lot of the story on ThePioneerWoman.com—the first two-thirds were published originally as a web serial. Part three of the book picks up where the serial leaves off, after PW's wedding. That you can read on February 1.
Check back soon for updates from my trip. And here's an excerpt from the memoir to whet your appetite for some old-school romance now:
Cowboy. I'd never spoken to a cowboy, let alone ever known one personally, let alone ever dated one, and certainly, absolutely, positively never kissed one—until that night on my parents' front porch, a mere couple of weeks before I was set to begin my new life in Chicago. After valiantly rescuing me from falling flat on my face just moments earlier, this cowboy, this western movie character standing in front of me, was at this very moment, with one strong, romantic, mind-numbingly perfect kiss, inserting the category of "Cowboy" into my dating repertoire forever . . .
I don't know how long we stood there in the first embrace of our lives together. But I do know that when that kiss was over, my life as I'd always imagined it was over, too.
I just didn't know it yet.