If there's one thing that keeps drawing me back to M.J. McGrath's Arctic thrillers, it's the impeccably rendered sense of place. And I'm not just talking about the beautiful and dangerous landscape of the Canadian arctic, but also the historical and cultural details of the Inuit people. In McGrath's third mystery, following White Heat and The Boy in the Snow, half-Inuit and half-outsider Edie Kiglatuk—with the help of Sergeant Derek Palliser—investigates the murder of one of her summer-school students, a young Inuit woman who turns up in the toxic Lake Turngaluk. As this drama unfolds, an environmental conspiracy concerning the toxic lake begins to take shape. The Bone Seeker can certainly be read as a standalone—and should be read, especially by those who crave harsh northern landscapes—but I'd recommend revisiting Kiglatuk's previous adventures as well.
Read on for an excerpt:
She was gazing down at a dip in the land that locals called Lake Turngaluk, the Lake of Bad Spirits, though it was mostly dry now, pitted here and there by windings of briny marsh. Locals said the area was a portal to the underworld and that birds wouldn't fly over it for fear of being sucked under but Derek didn't hold with that kind of nonsense, prefering to believe that the birds didn't bother to visit because what was left of the water was devoid of fish, a fact that had nothing to do with spirits or the underworld and everything to do with contamination from the radar system. So far as Derek understood it, the site should have been cleaned up years ago but it had got mired in political horse-trading until, about a decade ago, Charlie Salliaq had dismissed the old legal team and called on the services of Sonia Gutierrez, a prominent human rights lawyer specializing in aboriginal land claims. They'd finally won their case against the Department of Defence last year. One of Colonel Klinsman's jobs was to organize a working party to begin the necessary decontamination work at the station and on the surrounding land, including the lake.
'How odd,' Edie said. She pointed out of the side window but all he could see were a few thin strings of cirrus.
'What?' Derek undid his belt and twisted his neck around, though it made his head swim to do it.
'A bear. They're usually on their way north to the floe edge by now.'
'You want me to swing back?' Pol asked Derek.
The policeman nodded and prepared himself for the stomach lurch. Ahead, the rows of tents and prefab units of Camp Nanook stood on the tundra in incongruous straight lines, as though on parade. The plane rose higher then banked sharply and wheeled round, retracing their route through a patch of cloud. Coming through into clear air they caught sight of the bear. Spooked by the sound of the aircraft engine, it was running for the safety of the sea.
The surface of the pool where the bear had been appeared to be bubbling and seething. Derek first supposed it was a trick of the light, but as the slipstream from the plane passed across it, the western bank seemed to expand, as though it had suddenly turned to gas. He realized that he never seen anything like this before. He turned back, leaning over Edie to get a better view.
'What the hell is that?'
She curled around and caught his gaze. There was something wild about the way she was looking at him now, the muscles in her face taut, her black eyes blazing.
He began to speak but she cut him off. 'They're feeding on whatever attracted the bear.'
Readers, what are you reading today?
James Lee Burke is best known for his Dave Robicheaux mystery series, but his new standalone novel has completely blown me away. Historical thriller Wayfaring Stranger follows the life of Weldon Holland, the grandson of Burke's series character Hackberry Holland. From a run-in with Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow in Texas to heroic acts during World War II (rescuing soldiers and concentration camp prisoners alike), the early days of Weldon's life are—in a word—epic. After the war ends in Europe, Weldon returns to Texas, marries and starts an oil pipeline business. But peacetime has its own dangers, as Weldon's success in the oil biz—and marriage to a Jewish woman—creates plenty of enemies.
And of course all of this unfolds with Burke's classic prose, tinged with nostalgia in a way that seems perfect for historical fiction. Read on for an excerpt from when Weldon and his grandfather first encounter Bonnie and Clyde:
The windmill was ginning furiously, the stanchions trembling with energy, a thread of water coming from teh spout, the tank crusted with dirt and dead insects and animal hair along the rimes. "The moon looks like it was dipped in a teacup. I cain't believe how we used to take the rain for granted," he said. "I think this land must be cursed."
The air smelled of ash and dust and creosote and horse and cow manure that feathered in your hand if you picked it up. Dry lightning leaped through the heavens and died, like somebody removing an oil lamp from the window of a darkened house. I thought I felt thunder course through the ground under my shoes. "Feel that?" I said, hoping to change Grandfather's mood and my own.
"Don't get your hopes up. That's the Katy blowing down the line," he replied. "I'm sorry I made fun of your butt, Satch. I won't do it no more. Walk behind me till we know who's in that car."
As we approached the tree line, the driver of teh car walked out of the headlights and stood silhouetted against the glare, the got back in his car and started the engine and clanked the transmission into gear. The trees were so dry they made a sound like paper rustling when the wind blew through the canopy.
"Hold up there," Grandfather said to the man.
I thought the driver would simply motor away. But he didn't. He stuck his elbow out the window and stared straight into our faces, his expression curious rather than alarmed. "You talking to us?" he asked.
"You're on my property," Grandfather said.
"I thought this was public woods," the driver said. "If there's a posted sign that says otherwise, I didn't see it."
The woman next to him was pretty and had strawberry-blonde hair and a beret tilted over one eye. She looked like a happy country girl, the kind who works in a dime store or in a café where the truckers come in to make innocent talk. She leaned forward and grinned up into Grandfather's face. She silently mouthed the words "We're sorry."
"Did you know you have mud on your license tag?" Grandfather asked the driver.
"I'll get right on that," the driver said.
"You also have what appears to be a bullet hole in your back window."
Think you'll check out Burke's newest? What are you reading today?
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?
The title of Jeffery Deaver's new Lincoln Rhyme thriller immediately sends my mind into Silence of the Lambs territory:
The Skin Collector's title is an obvious nod to The Bone Collector, the very first Lincoln Rhyme novel and Deaver's 1997 debut, which was made into a movie starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie.
And with good reason: The new serial killer at large was inspired by the Bone Collector and has developed a way of murdering people through poisonous tattoos. Lincoln Rhyme is joined once again by Amelia Sachs, and they race to catch the bad guy as more and more people fall victim to his sadistic methods.
What do you think? Plan to check out Deaver's newest thriller? It's out today!
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanagihara
Doubleday • $26.95 • ISBN 9780385536776
On sale August 13, 2013
Hanya Yanagihara's The People in the Trees is one of our August issue's best debut novels of the year, perfect for fans of Donna Tartt, Ann Patchett and Barbara Kingsolver. Our reviewer was practically beside herself with praise, saying, "Novels like these are reminders not only of why we read, but also of just how vital and downright magical storytelling can be."
But if I'm totally honest, I picked this one up because I wanted to read about people eating magical turtles.
And there are definitely people eating turtles here, but fortunately for me, all the other stuff is true, too. Norton Perina, a scientist who has recently fallen from grace, recounts in these fictional memoirs an extraordinary journey into a remote Micronesian island where the meat of a turtle called the opa'ivu'eke may hold the key to eternal youth—but it comes with a terrible price.
The vivid and grotesque descriptions of setting, the engrossing science and the incredible imagination of this story are all enough to earn this book a spot among the best debuts of the year. What makes it one of the best books of the year, period, is its maturity in characterization. To take a man who has lost everything, who has been cast out from society and who may incite disgust in the reader, and allow him to represent himself in his own words defines Yanagihara as a uniquely talented storyteller. It takes compassion to be without judgment.
Check out our Q&A with Yanagihara and read her guest post about the true story behind her debut novel. Then enjoy this excerpt from The People in the Trees:
Looking back on it now, of course, I realize how extraordinary those first few days were, before I became immune to the awes of the jungle and even grew to despise them. One day—it must have been our third or fourth—I was trudging uphill as usual, looking around me, listening to the conversations of birds and animals and insects, feeling the floor beneath me gently buckling and heaving with unseen layers of worms and beetles as I placed my feet upon them; it could feel like treading on the wet innards of a large dozing beast. And then there was for a moment Uva at my side—he normally walked far ahead of me, in a pack with Fa'a and Tu, darting forward and back to assure Tallent that all was safe—holding his hand out before him, signaling me to stop. Then, quickly and gracefully, he sprang toward a nearby tree, indistinguishable from all others, thick and dark and branchless, and scrabbled up it quickly, turning his wide feet inward to cup its thorny bark. When he was about ten feet or so up, he looked down at me and held out his hand again, palm down—wait. I nodded. And then he continued to climb, vanishing into the canopy of the forest.
When he came down, he was slower, and clutching something in his hand. He leapt down the last five feet or so and came over to me, uncurling his fingers. In his palm was something trembling and silky and the bright, delicious pale gold of apples; in the gloom of the jungle it looked like light itself. Uva nudged the thing with a finger and it turned over, and I could see it was a monkey of some sort, though no monkey I had ever seen before; it was only a few inches larger than one of the mice I had once been tasked with killing, and its face was a wrinkled black heart, its features pinched together but its eyes large and as blankly blue as a blind kitten's. It had tiny, perfectly formed hands, one of which was gripping its tail, which it had wrapped around itself and which was flamboyantly furred, its hair hanging like a fringe.
"Vuaka," said Uva, pointing at the creature.
"Vuaka," I repeated, and reached out to touch it. Under its fur I could feel its heart beating, so fast it was almost a purr.
"Vuaka," said Uva again, and then made as if to eat it, solemnly patting his stomach.
The People in the Trees is one of my favorite debuts of the year, but First Fiction Month has highlighted plenty of other great debuts!
Joyland by Stephen King
Hard Case Crime • $12.95
This paperback original from from the author of some of the creepiest books every written finds Devin Jones, a likeable, heartbroken college kid, as he takes a summer job at Joyland, an amusement park with a haunted Horror House and a bloody history.
Sure, you've got your spooks and your murder, but Joyland is lovely for its depiction of the dissolution of young love and the boy who surfaces on the other side. Read on for an excerpt from Devin's first day of work at Joyland:
We did as we were told, and an old man emerged from the wings, walking with the careful, high-stepping strides of someone with bad hips, or bad back, or both. He was tall and amazingly thing, dressed in a black suit that made him look more like an undertaker than a man who owned an amusement park. His face was long, pale, covered with bumps and moles. Shaving must have been a torture for him, but he had a clean one. Ebony hair that had surely come out of a bottle was swept back from his deeply lined brow. He stood beside the podium, his enormous hands—they seemed to be nothing but knuckles—clasped before him. His eyes were set deep in pouched sockets.
Age looked at youth, and youth's applause first weekend, then died.
I'm not sure what we expected; possibly a mournful foghorn voice telling us that the Red Death would soon hold sway over all. Then he smiled, and it lit him up like a jukebox. You could almost hear a sigh of relief rustle through the summer hires.
Have you checked out the newest from King? If you haven't, you can enter to win it in this week's book giveaway!
Contemporary romance fans know Susan Mallery's fictional town of Fool's Gold well, and the fun continues with our June Top Pick in Romance, Just One Kiss. For single mom Patience McGraw, Justice Garrett is the one who got away. When he returns, she can't resist allowing him back into her life. Romance columnist Christie Ridgway writes, "An endearing romance and intriguing new characters make Mallery’s latest a must-read."
In a 7 questions interview, we asked Mallery why readers love returning to Fool's Gold with each new romance. Her answer:
"Fool’s Gold is about more than the central romance. It’s about the community. Readers love to see who has gotten married, who’s pregnant, who has babies. (Not to mention, they love to see what the septuagenarian troublemakers Eddie and Gladys have been up to!) The Fool’s Gold romances allow readers to see what happens after the happily ever after."
Fifteen years ago...
Patience McGraw couldn't breathe. She placed her hand on top of her chest and wondered if it was possible to have a heart attack and die from fear. Or maybe anticipation. Her mind raced and her throat was tight and here she was on possibly the most significant day of her life and she couldn't catch her breath. Talk about lame.
"The snow's melting," Justice said, pointing toward the mountains just east of town.
She looked up and nodded. "It's getting warmer."
It's getting warmer? She held in a groan. Why did she have to sound so stupid? Why did she have to be so nervous? This was Justice, her best friend since he'd moved to Fool's Gold at the beginning of October last year. They'd met in the school cafeteria and they'd reached for the last cupcake. He'd let her have it, she'd offered to share. She'd figured because he was older, he would have refused, but he'd smiled instead and that day they'd become friend.
She knew him. They hung out together, played video games together, went to the movies together. It was fun. It was easy. Or it had been until a few weeks ago when she'd suddenly looked into Justice's dark blue eyes and felt something she'd never experienced before.
Her mom had reassured her it was normal. Patience was fourteen, Justice was sixteen and it was unlikely they would stay friends forever. But Patience wasn't sure she liked the change. Before, she hadn't had to think about everything she said or worry about what she wore, or how her hair looked. Now she was always thinking, which made it hard to just hang out.
After two months of sweating every word, every thought, every action, she was done. She was going to tell Justice the truth. That she liked him. That she wanted him to be more than her best friend. If he liked her back, well, she didn't know what would happen then, but she was sure it would be wonderful. If he didn't, she would probably die of a broken heart.
• Scholastic unveiled the new cover for Harry Potter & the Chamber of Secrets at BEA! Less phoenix, more car. What do you think?
• Are you at BEA? If so, are you a #galleysnatcher?
• Speaking of covers, a great book jacket is like candy for us BookPagers. Check out this slideshow of before-and-after jackets of four brilliantly designed books. Then pass it along to your design friends.
• It's the weekend! Grab a book and whip yourself up a batch of F. Scott Fitzgerald's Prohibition ale recipe.
• Ten out-of-print Michael Crichton novels, written when the author was at Harvard Medical School, will be republished as eBooks.
• Gear up for June by previewing Colum McCann's new novel, TransAtlantic, via NPR.
There's nothing more classic than Shakespeare–except maybe Star Wars. And if you like two things, there must be a mash-up out there somewhere, as proven by Ian Doescher's William Shakespeare's Star Wars, a book with more combined staying power than pretty much anything ever written.
Is George Lucas' writing just a little too provincial for your taste? Does Shakespeare not set his stories far enough in the past? Ever thought that all Star Wars really needed was a Chorus? Great! Doescher's officially licensed, faithful retelling of the film A New Hope combines the action and lasers of a "star-crossed galaxy far, far away" with iambic pentameter—bam, problem solved.
Just a taste:
LEIA —O help
Me, Obi-Wan Kenobi, help. Thou art
Mine only hope.
LUKE —I wonder who she is.
Whoever she may be, whatever is
Her cause, I shall unto her pleas respond.
Not e’en were she my sister could I know
A duty of more weight than I feel now.
It seemeth she some dreadful trouble hath—
Mayhap I should replay the message whole.
R2-D2 Beep, squeak, squeak! Meep, hoo, meep.
C-3PO —R2 doth say
The bolt restraining him short-circuited
His full recording system. So saith he,
That if thou wouldst with speed remove the bolt,
He may the full recording then display.
[Aside:] What purpose shall I serve unto this man?
Am I to guide, encourage, counsel—what?
Thus shall I play the wise interpreter,
For truly ’tis the part I know the best.
LUKE What? Aye, thou seem’st too small to run away
If I should take this off. Good little droid,
So cleverly thou bringest messages,
That thou hast won my trust. Now, thou art free.
[Exit Princess Leia from beam.]
But wait, where hath she gone? What villainy!
How hast thou dampen’d that celestial light
Wherein she spoke of late? Now bring her back,
Play back the message full, thou naughty droid!
R2-D2 Meep, meep?
Will you check this one out? Teachers, would you ever consider using William Shakespeare's Star Wars to teach students how to read the Bard?
King of Cuba by Cristina García
Scribner • $26 • ISBN 9781476710242
On sale 5/21
While Junot Díaz's This is How You Lose Her was my favorite book last year, I have a special place in my heart for books by Latina writers, including Cristina García's Dreaming in Cuban (a National Book Award finalist), a story of exile and family set against the backdrop of the Cuban revolution.
Dreaming in Cuban is classic Latino lit, addressing duality of place, the draw of homeland and the immense pain of political upheaval and precarious dictatorship, told in a multigenerational narrative form. (Think The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.) But what I loved most about Dreaming in Cuban—as with other Latina authors—was how it illuminated the unspoken pain of women in a highly masculine community.
In her wry new novel, King of Cuba, García comes at the Cuban male from a different angle, moving on and off the island of Cuba to tell the story of two macho, aging men in alternating voices. In Cuba, a fictionalized Castro called El Comandante nears the end of his life. Across the water in Miami, an exiled man named Goyo Herrera obsessively plots revenge against El Comandante, whom he blames for ruining his life and destroying his Cuban paradise.
Like in Dreaming in Cuban, these two narratives, interspersed with a chorus of other Cuban voices, combine to define an exhausted country and the bonds between its people.
Read on for an excerpt from the perspective of El Comanadante:
The injection pinched the crux of his left elbow. The despot suspected that his caretakers were giving him more than B12 and magnesium infusions, but he'd stopped monitoring his health so closely. A pain in his chest cut off his breath, prompting another round of violent coughing. It sounded to him like machine-gun fire. He took sips of water from the glass Delia held to his lips, then sank back onto his pillows, exhausted. Of all his infirmities, the incessant choking bothered him most because it interfered with his ability to speak. If he couldn't speak, he couldn't cajole, intimidate, or command. Why, in his prime he could've persuaded Jesus Christ Himself off the cross and into armed revolt against His Father!
His old rival, Che, had suffered from chronic asthma, and this had slowed down the rebels in the Sierra Maestra. Half the time, Che was laid up looking like a goddamn saint. At least he'd had the decency to (finally) die young and photogenic while "exporting" revolution to Latin America, thereby becoming the face of radical heroism. That photograph—the one of him in a beret looking beatifically toward the future—was the most ubiquitous image of the twentieth century. Fifteen years ago an anthropology museum in Los Angeles had exhibited its infinite reproductions: refrigerator magnets, T-shirts, designer handbags, flip-flops, even neckties. Add to that a rash of movies and biographies and Che's myth was iron-clad, larded as it was with lies perpetuated by the Revolution itself.
"What are your plans today, mi amor?" Delia asked, trying to recapture her husband's attention.
"You're asking me my plans?"
"Don't get upset, I'm just—"
"How about staying alive?"
Will you check this one out?