This is a to-and-fro-ing time of year in my neck of the woods. For every college student leaving town for summer, it seems two tourists arrive to take his or her place. Their presence makes finding a parking spot or restaurant table downtown more difficult, but I'm still glad to see them. They look happy and hopeful, and I love knowing they'll enjoy the Central Coast of California's wine, food, and beaches––and then they'll go home.
Onto crime! Think about some great first books: Tana French's In the Woods, Michel Faber's The Crimson Petal and the White, and The Secret History, by Donna Tartt––and how long it seemed before these writers' second books arrived. There is no slower animal than a greatly anticipated second book. Let me tell you about a couple of them due out this summer.
The first one is Vanishing Games, by Roger Hobbs. Knopf won't release it until July 7, so you still have time to read Hobbs's first, the Steel Dagger-winning Ghostman (Knopf, 2013). Both books feature "Jack," a 30-something professional criminal whose specialty is fixing botched crimes. In Ghostman, the Atlantic City casino heist planned by criminal mastermind Marcus Hayes has derailed: one of the robbers is dead, shot by who knows whom; the other is wounded and missing; the $1.2 million has disappeared; and feds are swarming everywhere. Jack, who owes Marcus a favor because he screwed up five years earlier in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, agrees to fix this mess in Atlantic City. He has exactly 48 hours. While we watch Jack tackle this, we also learn what happened in Malaysia.
Hobbs has a very assured and distinctive voice. He wrote Ghostman while still a student at Reed College, and it's evident he's a natural-born scholar. The reader learns in great detail about the how-to's of crime and investigation. Even while action is boiling furiously on the stove, Hobbs might step away to hare off on an interesting tangent about, oh, anything, and you either like this, as I did, or you don't. It cracked me up, but didn't surprise me, to read in a Publishers Weekly review that Jack and a professional assassin pause in Vanishing Games "to discuss Greek mythology and the story of the cyclops Polyphemus for several pages before resuming their battle to the death." You don't take that required Humanities 101 class at Reed ("Sophocles, Euripides, Thucydides, Plato, and Aristotle") for nothing! As for the plot: a plan to hijack a fortune in uncut sapphires off a smuggler's yacht in the South China Sea goes haywire when the pirates happen upon some other unexpected treasure and fall out. Angela, who hatched the original plan, was once Jack's mentor. Now she asks for his help, and the two join forces in Hong Kong and Macau.
The other second book I want to mention today is Hell's Gate (Farrar, Straus & Giroux/Sarah Crichton, June 2), by former-BBC journalist Richard Crompton. Crompton, who lives in Nairobi, has a gift for clear and vivid writing. His Detective Mollel was left a widower and single parent when the U.S. embassy in Nairobi was bombed in 1998. While he walks the city streets, the stories of his Maasai ancestors float through his head. Mollel fits into his police force about as well as Ian Rankin's John Rebus fits into his Edinburgh force; in other words, Mollel deals with the corruption and backstabbing by investigating as he sees fit and infuriating his superiors.
Mollel has now been demoted and shuttled off to Hell, a two-bit town on the edge of Hell's Gate National Park. This is in retaliation for what his investigation uncovered in Hour of the Red God (Sarah Crichton, 2013), which Della Streetwise calls "nothing short of stunning" in her review here. That book is set against the tumult of the 2007 elections and involves a woman's death, wrongly dismissed by the authorities as a Maasai tribal ritual gone wrong. Hell's Gate opens with Mollel in prison, and then we travel back one week to see how events landed him there. If you enjoyed Mukoma Wa Ngugi's Nairobi Heat and Black Star Nairobi (Melville International Crime, 2013; see my review here), you should check out Crompton's series.
We're going to close for today with another book set in Kenya. According to early reviewers, Kenya also becomes a character in Circling the Sun (Random House/Ballantine Books, July 28). Its author is Paula McLain, who wrote about Ernest Hemingway's marriage to Hadley Richardson in her novel, The Paris Wife. This time, McLain focuses on Beryl Markham, whose parents moved to British East Africa in 1904. Shortly thereafter, her mother returned to England with Beryl's brother, and Beryl was left with her father to lead a freewheeling childhood and to grow up into an unconventional woman who married and divorced multiple times, became a race horse trainer and aviator, and formed a love triangle with safari hunter Denys Finch Hatton and Karen Blixen (Isak Dinesen, author of Out of Africa) in the 1920s.
After this book and the Margaret Mead/Reo Fortune/Gregory Bateson relationship in Papua New Guina that inspired Lily King's gorgeous historical fiction, Euphoria (Atlantic Monthly Press), last year, I'm wondering what trio we'll come across next year.