Exhilarated by her newfound passion for archeology, Catherine Lemay is left feeling deflated when she's assigned to a dig in the sprawling sagebrush of 1950s Montana. Here, she must ascertain if there is anything significant worth saving in the deep pit of a canyon before plans for a major dam can progress. If she finds nothing of importance, the canyon, considered sacred to the local Crow Native Americans, will be drowned. Accustomed to thrilling, richly rewarding digs in England, Catherine is less than enthused by the endless, seemingly empty landscape before her.
A sliver of gray stone pierced the rubber tread like a spike. She stood there and watched the tire empty and for the first time since the day she watched the English coast recede behind her, felt as though she might break down and cry. She fought the tears until the wave passed.
Exiles and emigrés haunt the pages of Vanessa Manko's evocative debut novel, which spans decades and continents. The story begins in 1913 Connecticut, where Russian emigré Austin has come to escape the pogroms and turmoil of his native land. After several years of hard work, he can afford to leave his cheap men's lodging house for a real boarding house, where he finds not only a room that only belongs to him, but an American woman he loves. But when the Bolshevik Revolution really takes hold in Russia, Austin finds himself under suspicion and expelled from his new home along with Julia, whom he marries at Ellis Island just before they are sent to Russia. Will he ever find his way back to the country he longs to call home?
The newspapers were calling it the Soviet Ark. The New York Times, January 1920, ran photos. A massive ship, anchored at Ellis Island on a bitter day. They stood on the peir amid the wind and ice. The sky opaque, flurries like chipped ice. The only sounds the murmur of men's conversations, seagulls crying, the moan of the boat on the day's hard air. The anchor cranking like a scream; the massive chain lifted out of the ocean, iron red with rust, calcified with sea salt, seaweed. Just moments before, he'd sat on the long benches of the waiting room, the very room he'd sat in only years prior eager to get beyond the bottled-glass windows whose light he knew was day in America—a country behind glass, the new country's light. . . . Somewhere, a man named Hoover had his name on an index card: Voronkov. Affirmed anarchist. Bail set at $10,000. Deported.
What are you reading this week?
There's something ominous circling the three characters in David Shafer's debut novel, but quite frankly, I haven't been giving it much attention. I've been far too caught up in Shafer's unrelenting humor—which is wicked and dark, just how I like it—and his spotless characterization. That being said, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot also fulfills all the requirements of an outstanding technothriller, with pulsing strains of paranoia and those all-seeing technological powers-that-be.
The story centers around 30-somethings Leila, Leo and Mark. Leo and Mark were friends at Harvard, but Leo is now a bit of a loser, while Mark is a phony self-help guide who works for the Committee, a data collection agency that seeks to privatize all information. Leila is a disillusioned nonprofit worker on the other side of the world. The only thing keeping the Committee from its goal is a secret underground Internet called Dear Diary. With jabs at every political angle, a love story and plenty of cool tech, Whiskey Tango Foxtrot is a pageturner of the highest order.
Read on for an excerpt from Leo's first scene:
There was no one even near Leo when he flew from his bike. His mind cast about for a culprit, for someone to blame other than himself. The bike just ceased its forward motion and he did not. How surprising, how nifty physics was. And as he trebucheted toward a four-inch curb, aware at once that his meeting with it would be physically calamitous, he remembered that he was wearing no helmet, and his surprised turned to fear. A month ago, at a party to which his friend Louis had brought him, Leo had heard (well, overheard) the host claiming that he wasn't afraid of death. That particular claim seemed to Leo to be demonstrably false. So, costumed as Jesus (for this was a Halloween party), Leo had decided to explore the man's reasoning. Not afraid of death, huh? My, that must make you a real psychopath. But he had seen almost immediately that he should not have told the man that he was like a Holocaust denier. "I said like a Holocaust denier. Like," he protested lamely when Louis escorted him out of the party and told him to enjoy the bracing walk home dressed as Jesus.
No, thought Leo, as he landed his right hand, fingertips first, on the cold nubbly of the curb, I am definitely more than a body, but I believe I am less than a soul.
Then, with a fluid agility that hadn't been his in years, Leo tucked his head and vertical body behind the leading edge of his rounded arm. Some latent muscle memory from five months of jujitsu at the McBurney YMA on West Sixty-Third Street from when he was ten? Leo seemed to recall that this YMCA had in fact served the adventurous class of men described in the song. Now, he felt a point beneath his stomach become the axis of his spinning mass, and he knew to use that dragony breath to take the hit when, after about 120 degrees, his trunk met the sidewalk, hard. Next was his hip and ass, which rolled over not just the concrete but also a busted padlock on the scene by chance. Then came his knees and feet, with a thwack. That was followed by his trailing left arm, which lay down gently, and his gloved palm, which landed and sprang back, the way a conguero lands a hand on the taut hide of his drum.
Leo stood up. He was fine. Just fine. Right as rain.
Leo stood up again, this time more carefully. Okay, maybe fine was an overstatement. But ambulatory and intact. A bit exhilarated, actually.
His bike lay twisted in the street behind him, its front tire still clamped in the groove of the new light-rail system tracks they were laying all over town. Only now did he notice the yellow-and-black warming signs that would have made him aware of the hazard his bike had to cross. The graphics depicted pretty much what had just happened: a bicycle with its front wheel caught in the maw of the track, the blockish pictogram rider hurtling over the handlebars. An honest piece of graphic art; a tiny, two-line picture poem, thought Leo, and he started to upbraid himself for his carelessness and lack of attention.
But wait. On one corner—the direction from which he'd come—the warning sign was there, but it was swathed in black plastic, taped up tight.
The thought came like a revelation: This was no accident. They obscured that sign because they want me eliminated.
Some part of him said, No, don't be ridiculous. But then why was only one sign shrouded?
What are you reading today?
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?
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?
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.
Debut author Pia Padukone explores cultural identity, grief and how we love in her novel, Where Earth Meets Water. Karom Seth is haunted by his brushes with fate: he should have been in the Twin Towers for a school project on 9/11, and he should have been at the family reunion when a tsunami on the Indian coast claimed his entire family in 2004. Karom is left with his grief, his guilt and his father's cherished Rolex. His girlfriend, Gita, invites him on a trip to India in hopes of helping him find answers and closure, and Gita's grandmother, Kamini, may be the one person that can point him in the right direction.
"Should the guilty seek asylum here,
Like one pardoned, he becomes free of sin.
Should a sinner make his way to this mansion,
All his past sins are to be washed away.
The sight of this mansion creatres sorrowing sighs,
And the sun and the moon shed tears from their eyes.
In this world this edifice has been made,
To display thereby the creator's glory!"
"It's what Shah Jahan said about the Taj," Karom said, folding the paper back into his pocket. Gita closed her eyes and leaned against him. He wanted to comfort her, but he too felt let down. Nothing had happened. There had been no revelations.
Karom had been sure that he would leave the Taj Mahal with a deeper understanding of the world, of colors, of light, of love. He was sure that something magical would transform them, would transform him, the way he saw the world. He had placed too high an expectation on the Taj Mahal. After all, it was just a building. But it was a building that was homage to love, homage to the departed. He'd wondered if he would catch a glimpse of the past here, if he might tap into the spirit of the palace, the serenity of the courtyards. He'd wondered if, like a sinner, he too might be absolved, washed pure and clean, and set into the streets refreshed. He'd wondered if he might put lingering ghosts to bed and feel, for the first time, at ease with himself and finally, finally have the strength to put the game to rest.
What are you reading this week?
Canadian filmmaker David Cronenberg's debut novel is as dreamlike and as filled with potential horrors as one of his movies: Photographers Naomi and Nathan are lovers and competitors, but Cronenberg establishes early on that their two plotlines will not meet for a long time. Naomi has become obsessed with a "juicy French philosophical sex-killing murder-suicide cannibal thing"—a Marxist philosopher is found dead and mutilated in her French apartment, and her husband is nowhere to be found. Nathan is in Budapest, consumed with a "controversial Hungarian breast-cancer radioactive seed implant treatment thing," and after sleeping with one of unlicensed surgeon Dr. Zoltán Molnár's patients, he contracts a rare STD that sends him to Toronto in search of the man who first discovered the disease.
Consumed has a blurb from Viggo Mortensen (though they're clearly pretty good friends) and mentions a Gauloise in the second paragraph (of course). It's also hard to ignore the publicity materials throwing around names like Kafka and Borges, and words like "definitive heir," though film critics have been saying as much for years.
With all this in mind—as well as remembering my dislike for Cronenberg's most recent film, the limo thriller Cosmopolis, based on the 2003 novel by Don DeLillo—I approach Consumed with equal parts delight and healthy skepticism.
Read on for an introduction to Dr. Zoltán Molnár, a character that seems ideal for Cronenberg's style of exploratory, psychological storytelling and body horror:
And now, in a very smooth segue—which Nathan thought of as particularly Hungarian—Dr. Molnár said, "Have you met our patient, Nathan? She's from Slovenia. Une belle Slave." Molnár peeked over the cloth barrier and spoke to the disconnected head with disarmingly conversational brio. "Dunja? Have you met Nathan? You signed a release form for him, and now he's here with us in the operating theater. Why don't you say hello?"
At first Nathan thought that the good doctor was teasing him; Molnár had emphasized the element of playfulness in his unique brand of surgery, and chatting with an unconscious patient would certainly qualify as Molnáresque. But to Nathan's surprise Dunja's eyes began to stutter open, she began working her tongue and lips as though she were thirsty, she took a quick little breath that was almost like a yawn.
"Ah, there she is," said Molnár. "My precious one. Hello, darling." Nathan took a step backward in his slippery paper booties in order not to impede the strange, intimate flow between patient and doctor. Could she and her surgeon be having an affair? Could this really be written off as Hungarian bedside manner? Molnár touched his latex-bound fingertips to his masked mouth, then pressed the filtered kiss to Dunja's lips. She giggled, then slipped away dreamily, then came back. "Talk to Nathan," said Molnár, withdrawing with a bow. He had things to do.
Dunja struggled to focus on Nathan, a process so electromechanical that it seemed photographic. And then she said, "Oh, yes, take pictures of me like this. It's cruel, but I want you to do that. Zoltán is very naughty. A naughty doctor. He came to interview me, and we spent quite a bit of time together in my hometown, which is"—another druggy giggle—"somewhere in Slovenia. I can't remember it."
"Ljubljana," Molnár called out from the foot of the table, where he was sorting through instruments with his colleagues.
"Thank you, naughty doctor. You know, it's your fault I can't remember anything. You love to drug me."
Nathan began to photograph Dunja's face. She turned toward the camera like a sunflower.
Will you pick up Consumed when it's available this September? What are you reading today?
Canadian author Stephen Galloway takes a magical tack in his follow-up to his poignant debut, The Cellist of Sarajevo. The Confabulist is the story of an ordinary man, Martin Strauss, who in his waning years feels compelled to tell the truth about his connection to Harry Houdini, the most famous magician of all time. As Martin recalls it in the prologue, he didn't just kill Houdini—he killed him twice. But how? That question keeps the reader turning the pages as the fascinating world of magic and spiritualism that took center stage around the turn of the 20th century unfolds.
Unless the magician has actual supernatural powers, unless what he does alters the workings of the known universe, then all we witness is a man pretending to be a magician. Everything else is an illusion.
This is what has always captivated me about magic—the idea that we can create something that seems both real and impossible. That we could be two things at once without fully knowing which is material and which is reflection.
What are you reading this week?
Charlaine Harris' Sookie Stackhouse series—immortalized on screen as the HBO series "True Blood"—concluded in May of 2012. Like most epic, beloved series, it had a finale that was somewhat controversial, but it also left fans eager to see what Harris would turn her hand to next.
Turns out, she's moving to Texas. Midnight Crossroad is the first in a trilogy set in a the small town of Midnight, Texas, which is shaken up by the arrival of psychic Manfred Bermardo, whom longtime Harris fans will remember from the Harper Connelly mysteries. Skinny, pale and pierced, Manfred is the sort of person who might stand out in a place like midnight, but what really worries the people of Midnight is his profession. After all, a small town is the perfect place to start over if you have a past . . . and you can't hide secrets from a psychic.
Fiji's lips tightened. "Listen, I know you're not a computer person, but Google his name, okay? You know how to Google, don't you?
"I just put my lipst together and blow?" Bobo said.
Fiji caught the reference, but she wasn't in the mood for jollity. "Bobo, he's the real deal." She wriggled uneasily in her hard wooden rocker. "He'll know stuff."
"You saying I have secrets he might reveal?" Bobo was still smiling, but the fun had gone out of his eyes. He combed his longish blond hair back with both hands.
"We all have secrets," Fiji said.
"Even you, Feej?"
She shrugged. "A few."
"You think I do, too?" He regarded her steadily.
She met his eyes. "I know you do. Otherwise, why would you be here?"
What are you reading this week?
ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read an interview with Charlaine Harris about book 10 in the Southern Vampire series.