September is a big month for mysteries this year, both in terms of excellence and page count (close to 2,000 pages in the four books here—truly a reviewer’s marathon!). If ever there were a month deserving of four Top Picks, this is it.
The end of the world might seem like an odd time to care about music and art; why worry about Shakespeare when civilization has collapsed? But in Canadian writer Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven, it seems perfectly plausible that a Traveling Symphony would cross the wasteland that exists 20 years after most of the world’s population has died from a flu epidemic.
A notable tourist attraction in Thailand is the bridge “over the River Kwai”—part of the Death Railway built during World War II by the Japanese using the labor of Allied POWs under atrocious conditions. The Narrow Road to the Deep North, by Australian Richard Flanagan, follows the Australian contributors to this grandiose project, as well as its Japanese administrators, many of whom were destined to become prisoners themselves.
There are many strange disappearances on Offley Street, from Imogen Splotts’ teddy bear to Lady Chumley-Plumley’s diamonds. And one creature has taken notice: Hermelin, a mouse that can read and write. Self-named for the cheese box in which he woke up one day, Hermelin resides in the attic of Number 33 Offley Street. Perhaps inspired by the old mysteries and Victorian garb surrounding him, the mouse sets out to find the lost items he sees on the neighborhood message board.
In a Rocket Made of Ice is an extraordinary book about an extraordinary place. Wat Opot Children’s Community is a Cambodian orphanage started with $50 by Wayne Matthysse, a former Vietnam medic driven to make life better for children in war-torn countries. The orphanage is home to children and women affected by HIV and AIDS, where they can get the powerful antiretroviral drugs they need to stay healthy, as well as education and a community in which they belong.
Much like J.K. Rowling and George R.R. Martin, best-selling author Haruki Murakami is the type of writer whose fans queue up at bookstores at midnight, clamoring to be the first to get their hands on his latest book. Unfortunately, people who do not read Japanese have had to wait quite some time to read Murakami’s latest, Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage, which was published to acclaim in Japan in April 2013.
British author Nick Harkaway is known for his ability to fearlessly blend genres in novels like The Gone-Away World. In his third novel, Tigerman, he mixes parenting, superheroes and geopolitics in the story of Lester Ferris, a British Army sergeant sent to a remote island outpost on what is supposed to be a simple assignment. But Lester refuses to ignore the shady goings-on in Mancreau, and his growing relationship with a native street kid complicates things further. We asked Harkaway a few questions about superheroes and being a dad.
Nick Harkaway has a strange way of making us feel at home as readers even when we are in a decidedly strange place, of immersing us in something new and somehow making it feel familiar at the same time. With Tigerman, he again spellbinds with witty prose and inviting characters while taking us into a world that needs an unexpected hero.
The first thing you may think when reading the opening pages of Stephen L. Carter’s engrossing Back Channel is, “What in the devil is going on here?” It’s 1962 and we’re at the beginning of the Cuban Missile Crisis. President Kennedy is in a townhouse with a 19-year-old African-American girl, but not for the reason you think. It seems that this young lady is the key to stopping the world from becoming a glowing, radioactive ember in the darkness of space. You can’t be blamed if your first reaction is bemusement.
Rebecca Rasmussen (The Bird Sisters) traces the lasting damage of violence to devastating effect in her second novel, Evergreen, a fairy tale-like chronicle of how one moment’s pain can echo through generations.