Friday, September 6, 2013

Fall 2013 Preview: Part One

Well, here we are again. The kids are back in school, the beaches aren't crowded anymore, the sun is setting earlier and, around here anyway, you might need a sweater in the evening. I'm sad to see summer coming to an end, but there are things to look forward to, like football––and loads of new books. There are so many books we're excited about that we've had to split up our preview into six parts, and a seventh just to list the titles we don't have the space to write about in detail. Ready? Let's get started.

I've mentioned before that one of my absolute favorite contemporary authors is John Lawton. Lawton writes atmospheric police procedural/espionage books set in England and elsewhere in Europe, from World War II through the 1960s––the golden age of espionage. Lawton's books to date have featured––though sometimes only in a supporting role––Frederick Troy, son of a wealthy Russian émigré publisher, who inexplicably (to his family) chooses to become a policeman.

Much as I enjoy Frederick Troy, I was excited to hear Lawton was starting a new series, with the first book titled Then We Take Berlin. I was lucky enough to get an advance reading copy of the book, which was just published on September 3, by Atlantic Monthly Press. I liked the book so much I'll be posting a full review on Read Me Deadly soon.

For the moment, I'll just say it's set in Berlin (surprise!) in two particularly interesting periods: in the months after the end of World War II, when the black market was in its heyday, and in 1963 at the time of JFK's famous visit. Throw in Joe Wilderness––Lawton's British intelligence agent who hasn't quite left behind his days as an East London burglar––and an unusual boy-meets-girl plot, and you get a crackerjack of story that I could easily see on the big screen.

Next to John Lawton's, the book I've been most anticipating for the season is Jonathan Coe's Expo 58. Coe is the author of one of my favorite mystery spoofs, The Winshaw Legacy: Or, What a Carve-Up!––which you really should read. Now here we have another spoof, this time of espionage novels.

Thomas Foley, a mild-mannered civil servant with Britain's Central Office of Information, is assigned to go to Expo 58, the World Trade Fair of 1958, in Brussels. The UK's presence at the Expo is The Britannia pub, and Foley is the perfect person to oversee it for the six months of the fair, considering that his mother is Belgian and his father runs a pub.

Set only just after rationing ended in England, Foley is dazzled by Brussels and the fair––and even more so by the glamorous hostesses from the various pavilions. Soon, though, Foley becomes entangled in the Cold War shenanigans of the Russians and Americans, whose pavilions flank his pub. Expo 58 just came out September 5, from Viking Penguin. (Unfortunately, that's just in the UK. No word yet on when it will be published in the US, so I'll have to get the UK version.)

Speaking of a spy spoof, here's one that makes me think it might be sort of a mash-up of Zelig and Forrest Gump, or maybe a little bit like The 100-Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared. Peter Warner's The Mole: The Cold War Memoir of Winston Bates is coming on October 22 from Thomas Dunne Books. This fictitious (whew) memoir puts us in Washington, D.C. in the latter half of the 20th century, as Winston Bates, recruited as a spy for Canada (wait, a Canadian spy?), insinuates himself into practically every political crisis of the period, including the Bay of Pigs and Watergate. The book includes archival photographs accompanied by Winston's entertaining captions, including his observation that "[t]he period when I was on [Lyndon Johnson's] White House staff was my most unhappy in Washington." Having read Robert Caro's biographies of Johnson, I can just imagine.

Some of my favorite writers have new series entries coming out soon. Barry Maitland is an under-appreciated writer of English police procedurals. He teams Scotland Yard Detective Chief Inspector David Brock with Detective Inspector Kathy Kolla in a partnership that is refreshingly free of romantic tension. In the upcoming twelfth book in the series, The Raven's Eye (November 12, Minotaur), Brock is battling office bureaucracy when Kolla receives a routine call about an apparently accidental death.

Vicky Hawks has died on her houseboat in the Paddington district, a victim of carbon monoxide poisoning, apparently due to a faulty heater. Kolla is expected to just sign off on the death, but something niggles at her and she and Brock feel compelled to investigate further into Vicky's life and possible connections with an earlier death that was chalked up to accidental causes.

Back in 2009, the end of Ruth Rendell's Detective Chief Inspector Wexford series was announced. The Monster in the Box, the twenty-second book in the series, which started in 1964, was supposed to be the end of the line for Wexford, who was retiring. It was an excellent closeout to a superior series. And then, out of the blue, Wexford was back, in 2011's The Vault. Shh, don't tell anybody, but it wasn't great. Still, it was interesting to have Wexford helping out his former colleague, Mike Burden, in an unofficial capacity.

In No Man's Nightingale (November 5, Scribner), Mike asks for Wexford's help again in the investigation of the strangling murder of Sarah Hussein in Wexford's longtime home village of Kingsmarkham. Hussein is of mixed race and is a vicar who was active in efforts to modernize the Church of England. Could her death be due to racism or sexism?

Two years ago, I read Leonard K. Rosen's All Cry Chaos, an unusual debut mystery featuring veteran Interpol senior detective, Henri Poincaré. The book started out with a bang, when a mathematics genius is practically vaporized in an Amsterdam hotel by a rocket-fueled bomb. A second thread in the plot is about threats against Poincaré's family by a Serbian war criminal whom Poincaré arrested.

What made the book so unusual was how author Rosen made chaos theory and fractals a completely fascinating part of the story, and also wove in political, social and religious issues. Since the book was called the first in a series featuring Poincaré, I was looking forward to another one. One thing I wondered, though, was how Rosen would make a series with a protagonist who's on the verge of retirement. I should have guessed: prequel.

The Tenth Witness takes us back to 1978, when Henri, then an engineer, is working with his business partner, Chin, on a project to search for an old shipwreck off the Dutch coast that might just have a cargo of gold bars. While out on a beach walk, Henri meets Liesel Kraus, the daughter of a wealthy steelmaker, Otto Kraus, whose company was one of those, like Krupp, that worked to keep the Nazi war machine going.

Though Otto was a member of the Nazi Party, he escaped punishment after Germany's defeat. The story is that he was a sort of Oskar Schindler for workers in his facilities. As Henri comes to know Liesel's family better, he begins to doubt that story. This promises to be another thoughtful look at war, hatred and judgment. The Tenth Witness was published on August 16 by Permanent Press. I just started it and plan to write more about it on Read Me Deadly soon.

At the end of the ninth Harry Hole novel, Phantom, readers wondered if we'd be seeing another entry in the series. It looks like the answer is yes. On October 15, Knopf will publish Jo Nesbø's Police. The reason for the title is that the plot is about a serial murderer of police officers. They are being gruesomely slain at the sites of previous murders that the police failed to solve. After the events of the last book, though, Harry isn't in a position to help with this critical investigation, in which the Oslo police are desperate to find the killer before losing more members of the force.

Readers on Goodreads who have had a chance to review advance copies of the book are absolutely raving about it. I know what I'll be reading in October, then! (That is, if I can wait until then rather than get the UK version, which comes out on September 13.)

Like many mystery readers, I also enjoy crime dramas on TV, and Mystery! on PBS has been the home of some of my favorites over the years, like Foyle's War, Inspector Morse, Prime Suspect, Jericho and many others. Rebecca Eaton has been a producer of PBS's Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! for over 25 years, and now writes to tell stories about her career and experiences with those behind the camera, like writers, directors and other producers, and some of the featured performers in front of the camera, including Alistair Cooke, Maggie Smith, Diana Rigg, Benedict Cumberbatch and Daniel Radcliffe. Making Masterpiece: 25 Years Behind the Scenes at Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery! on PBS is coming on October 29 from Viking Adult and I'm looking forward to getting a behind-the-scenes view of some of my favorite shows over the years.

And now for something completely different. We can't read mysteries all the time, right? I'm intrigued by the notion of Steven Brust and Skyler White's The Incrementalists (September 24, Tor). The Incrementalists are a secret society whose mission, which they call "meddlework," is tweaking people at critical points in history to improve the outcome. One of their successful tweaks was to get General Ulysses S. Grant to quit drinking during the Civil War. Their meddling with Cambodia, leading to the Killing Fields, not so much.

Incrementalists live a long, long time, though not forever. But they form a kind of hive memory by implanting a stub record of their experiences and personalities in a successor at death. In Las Vegas in 2011, Phil chooses Renée to get his lover Celeste's stub when Celeste dies after 400 years. That's when they discover that Celeste has been breaking the rules for a long, long time––and plans to continue.

I've always thought Fannie Flagg is a national treasure. Her sweetly comic novels are just so American. Flagg herself is multi-talented: an actress, comedian and author. Her best-known novel is, of course, Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café. She was nominated for an Academy Award for adapting her work into the screenplay for the celebrated film, Fried Green Tomatoes.

You know just from her titles that you want to read a Fannie Flagg book. Who wouldn't want to settle down to Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, Standing in the Rainbow, I Still Dream About You, Daisy Fay and the Miracle Man, A Redbird Christmas or, my favorite, Can't Wait to Get to Heaven. Coming up on November 5, from Random House, we get another doozy of a title: The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion.

As usual, Flagg populates this novel with some inventive names. Our protagonist is Sookie Poole, who is now, with husband Earle, an empty nester looking for some "me" time. Sookie's mother, the redoubtable Lenore Simmons Krackenberry (see what I mean?) puts the kibosh on those plans, though. When Sookie finds out a stunning secret about her mother, it sends her on a quest through the Midwest, out to California, and back through the years to the 1940s, when gas stations had loads of attendants––and at one station, at least, the gimmick was that they were all females. I'm tapping my foot with impatience for this one.

Have you heard about The Austen Project? This venture pairs six authors with Austen's six completed novels, asking each author to re-imagine the story in the present day. The very idea may fill some Austen-ites with dread, but I'm looking forward to reading them. The first, Joanna Trollope's try at Sense & Sensibility, will be published by HarperCollins on October 29. (Crime fiction readers will want to know that Val McDermid will tackle Northanger Abbey in 2014.)

Last on my list, but much higher up in my anticipation, is another project: Graeme Simsion's The Rosie Project (October 1, Simon & Schuster). This romantic comedy was a sensation in Australia, where it was first published, and in the rest of the UK. The hero of the piece is Don Tillman, a professor of genetics, who relates the stories of his two projects: The Wife Project, which is just what you'd think, and The Father Project, which is helping barmaid Rosie with her search for her biological father.

Don's projects are a little more methodical, let's say, than your average person's, because Don seems to be on the autism spectrum. He has decided he wants a wife, so his ultra-logical notion is that he should draw up a very detailed questionnaire and use it to find a woman who meets his exacting specifications. He soon learns that emotions may have more to do with this whole thing than he'd thought.

If you've already started your list of books you want to read the rest of the year, I hope you saved some space on the page. You'll need it when you hear from Georgette, Periphera, Della and the Maltese Condor!

Note: I received free review copies of Then We Take Berlin, The Tenth Witness, and The Rosie Project.


  1. The books you've listed all go into my TBR notebook now, Sister MM. I'm glad the Flagg will be available for Thanksgiving vacation.

    I need to step up my reading pace because I have a happy feeling you Deadliests are going to unload winter books on us soon. Hint, hint. Nikki

  2. Hi Nikki,

    There's nothing like the hosepipe of books coming out in the fall. It's crazy how much good-looking stuff there is. Just wait'll you see all the good stuff Georgette, Peri, Della and Maltese Condor will be talking about.

    No need to hint about winter––we're already collecting titles for our winter preview, which I figure we'll be publishing in late November. Maybe something else for you to read over Thanksgiving vacation.

    I just love Fannie Flagg. I always think I look like an idiot when I read her books because I usually have a smile plastered on my face. It's not too bad when I'm sitting at home in my chair, but if I'm out and listening to one on audiobook, I probably look like I'm crazy. Happy crazy, but still.

  3. wondering if Fannie Flagg booksm (her name and titles scare me) are too girly for me? I know Lawton isn't and the rest of these books look insanely good too. THanks, Sis. Kev

  4. Hey Kev,

    The Fannie Flagg books are probably too girly, though I would say exceptions would probably be Redbird Christmas and Can't Wait to Get to Heaven.

    Some reviewers of the Lawton are complaining about the ending, and I can see that, but it's so good that even if you don't like the ending, you'll still have had a hell of a good time right up until then.

    I'm going to see if I can get my sci-fi loving husband to test-drive The Incrementalists first, but it just sounds so interesting to me.

    I'm almost finished with The Tenth Witness and I will definitely be recommending it. I know a lot of people really, really avoid books with WW2 themes, and I have to be sympathetic to that. But for anybody who won't read The Tenth Witness because of that, I say to go read All Cry Chaos, which was terrific and not a Nazi in sight.

    Have a great weekend, Kev.

  5. Thanks, I will, SIs, in case you haven't noticed the NFL is backn and NE plays Sunday.Best of luck, Kev

  6. Kev, did you watch last night's Broncos/Ravens game? I went to bed at halftime and missed all the fireworks.

    Yes, we're set to watch the Patriots on Sunday. Jerseys and pretzel pieces are all ready and I'll get the mowing done tomorrow. Also looking forward to the 49er/Packers game. What'll you be watching?

  7. Merciful sleep if you're a Ravens fan. That game was brutal and a bad way ato start the season.

    I'll be watching NE and the Packers. Hope NY crushes the Cowboys.

    Pass the pretzels please. Kev

  8. Greatly appreciate the fall reading suggestions over the past few days on this site. I see books each day that I want to read; however, the one I'm most interested in is Rosen's Tenth Witness and I hope you do tell us more about it soon. Thanks, all.

  9. Steve, I'll have my full review of The Tenth Witness on Friday. It's definitely a recommendation. If you're anywhere near Albany, I think he's planning to be at Bouchercon this year.