Monday, June 22, 2015

June-July 2015 Preview: Part Eight

Looking through upcoming titles makes it clear there's something for every reader and occasion.

The biggest book arriving this summer is Harper Lee's Go Set a Watchman (Harper, July 17). Lee is, of course, the woman who wrote To Kill a Mockingbird, the popular classic of American literature. It deals with coming of age, the loss of innocence and race and justice. You might already be aware of the controversy surrounding the Watchman manuscript's discovery earlier this year and the decision to publish it. This is the manuscript Lee wrote in the 1950s and submitted for publication to Lippincott editor Tay Hohoff, who guided and edited Lee's rewrite. It resulted in To Kill a Mockingbird in 1960.

Go Set a Watchman will be published as Lee originally wrote it, without editorial revision. It's set 20 years after To Kill a Mockingbird. Jean Louise ("Scout") Finch is now an adult and she returns to her small hometown of Maycomb, Alabama to visit her father, Atticus. Surely this is a book for readers who would like to see the origin of Lee's famous novel. In addition, there's bound to be a lot of talk about Watchman after its publication, so it's for people who want to be able to contribute intelligently to that discussion. I suggest you read it on a screened porch with a glass of sweet tea or lemonade at hand. If you're into matched book sets, you might want to check out the To Kill a Mockingbird/Go Set a Watchman dual slipcased edition available from Harper on October 27, 2015.

A few summers ago, I saw the movie Oliver Stone made from one of Don Winslow's nonseries books, Savages, about what happens when a violent Mexican drug cartel tries to muscle in on a successful southern California marijuana business operated by a love triangle composed of 20-somethings Ben, Chon and O. The movie is beautiful to look at, but it's overly long and the violence is over the top. Winslow's Savages deserved better. If you like hard-boiled tales with quirky characters speaking snappy dialogue in cinematic settings, Winslow may be your man. In addition to nonseries books, Winslow has written series, including one with a pickpocket who became a PI (begin with A Cool Breeze on the Underground), a second with a surfer PI (The Dawn Patrol), and a third featuring a DEA agent, Art Keller, who deals with drugs traveling into the United States from Mexico.

The first Keller novel is 2005's The Power of the Dog. In 560 pages, it traces drug trafficking from Medellín, Colombia to Honduras to Mexico and to the United States. Its brooding main character, Keller, is the son of a rich American who abandoned his young Mexican wife. Keller grew up in a San Diego barrio, where he saw the devastation of drugs at first hand. After a stint as a CIA op in Vietnam, Keller joins the DEA. If you're in the mood for a heartbreaking indictment of our government's endless War on Drugs and a hell of a read, this book is for you. Winslow continues his well-researched epic with The Cartel, to be released by Knopf tomorrow. By now, it's 2004 and Keller is leading a quiet life, tending bees at a New Mexican monastery. Keller's an obsessional guy, however, and he swings back into action upon hearing the Sinaloan cartel leader, Adán Barrera, has escaped from prison and once again heads his drug empire. I have high hopes for this 600-page sequel, which appears on Publishers Weekly's list of this summer's best. It looks like a good book for reading anywhere you can sit in the sun and drink a Mexican beer or a mean margarita.

Lori Roy's crime fiction is for readers who like lyrical country noir writers such as Amy Greene, Wiley Cash and Tom Franklin. Roy writes nonseries books set during times of social or personal upheaval. Her suspenseful, gothic-tinged first, Bent Road, won an Edgar for Best First Novel by an American. It features Arthur and Celia Scott, who decide to leave the problems of 1960s Detroit by moving their three children to Arthur's Kansas hometown. Arthur's family's history there is less than idyllic and this move brings to mind "out of the pot, into the fire." Roy's second, Until She Comes Home, was nominated for an Edgar. It involves a crime and its aftermath in 1950s Detroit, a world where men leave factory shifts to return to their wives at home.

Roy's third book is a coming-of-age novel. Let Me Die in His Footsteps (Dutton, June 2) needs the accompaniment of a lavender-infused ice tea. Or you could eat ginger cookies and dab your lips with a lavender-drenched linen hankie. The inspiration for Roy's book brings to my mind Sharyn McCrumb's The Ballad of Frankie Silver, based on North Carolina's first woman hanged in 1833. Silver was the mother of an infant and 18 years old when she was convicted, without benefit of her own testimony, of killing her husband. The 1936 hanging of a man in Owensboro, Kentucky that inspired Let Me Die in His Footsteps was America's last legal public one. Two story lines spin out in alternate chapters. Each involves the gift of foretelling (the "know-how") and a set of rural Kentucky sisters: Juna and Sarah in 1936 and Annie and Carolyn in 1952. This is another from Publishers Weekly's best-of-summer reading list.

"Just the blood-soaked, demon-ravaged, terrifying sequel to The Dead Run (2013)." Right there, that Kirkus review ought to be enough to recommend Adam Mansbach's The Devil's Bag Man (Harper Voyager, July 21). If you haven't read The Dead Run, which I'll tell you about in a second, you may recognize the Mansbach name as the exhausted dad who wrote the best-selling Go the F*ck to Sleep. This is obviously a writer who knows how to have fun.

Mansbach is obviously having fun (of a gory sort) in The Dead Run (Harper Voyager, 2014), which works best for readers with a hardy suspension of disbelief. To enjoy this book, you must accept profanity and a lot of blood and like elements of the goofy, the supernatural, horror and suspense in an offbeat, hyperkinetic thriller. Think Pulp Fiction meets Breaking Bad meets Taken meets Starman, not the potential plot but the flavor. It's about an anti-hero smuggler, Jess Galvan, who is imprisoned in Mexico when a shaman gives him a box containing the beating heart of a virgin (you heard me). To save some lives, Galvan must deliver the heart to a cult leader in Texas. If Galvan succeeds, the world will enter the time of evil foretold by the Aztecs. A small-town Texas lawman leads a small band of good guys on his trail. I'll let you meet the bikers and armies of undead virgins in the book. Galvan's saga continues in The Devil's Bag Man, which finds Jess living out in the desert "with a head full of angry Aztec god." If you want a lovely book with a hopeful look at world's end, sit down with a glass of chardonnay and Emily St. John Mandel's Station Eleven (Knopf, 2014). For a more crazed look, there's The Devil's Bag Man, a Coca Cola and some popcorn. Read it after The Dead Run to relieve the boredom of a long journey to your summer vacation destination.

Sometimes a book that sounds tailor-made for the big screen also works well for the beach blanket. That's the early verdict for Crush (Prospect Park/distributed by Consortium, July 14), by Emmy and Peabody Awards-winning Phoef Sutton. Sutton was an executive producer of Cheers and a writer and producer for Boston Legal and NewsRadio.

Crush is the nickname for Los Angeles bouncer and martial arts expert Caleb Rush, who becomes the bodyguard of 18-year-old Amelia Trask, daughter of billionaire Stanley Trask. Amelia is on the run from the Russian mafia because, oh, who cares. Like all the best action heroes, Crush has his own moral code that may not conform to a strict reading of the law. Action that early readers call "overheated," characters who are "bigger than life" and "a witty narrative voice" in Elmore Leonard's territory peg this as one for the beach bag. I think it looks fun.


  1. I really enjoyed Lori Roy's latest. I heard about the Adam Mansbach just yesterday, now I need to go read DEAD RUN so I can be ready for BAGMAN!

    1. Becky, I'm very glad to hear you liked Lori Roy's new book because I'm looking forward to reading it. I think you'll enjoy Mansbach's THE DEAD RUN. It's a thriller with a lot of crazy energy. I can't wait to read BAGMAN to see what happens next.