THE BEST IN NEW MYSTERY: EDGAR AWARD NOMINEES AT THE FIELD

Every year, the Mystery Writers of America nominate the best books in a number of categories for the prestigious Edgar Allan Poe Award, known popularly as the Edgar, and the nominees for the 2017 Edgar Awards have just been announced.  If you’re interested in the state of mystery writing and want to read some of the best mysteries published last year, come down to the Field Library to check out the nominees we have on our shelves.

 

BEST NOVEL

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Let’s start with Where It Hurts, by Reed Farrel Coleman.  Gus Murphy, the protagonist, is a retired Suffolk County Police Officer who had a good life and everything he could have wanted (a nice home, a family, a good marriage) until a sudden tragedy took everything away, blew his familiar life into chaos and left him questioning everything he thought he knew.  Now divorced and working as a courtesy van driver for a hotel where he works, he’s numb when an ex-con comes to him for help.  It seems the man’s son had been killed four months before and nobody seemed interested in investigating the murder.  Gus reluctantly agrees to look into the matter and soon discovers that the man was evidently telling him the truth: everyone involved with the son has something to hide and is willing to go to great lengths to keep those secrets hidden.  Gus soon finds he’s gotten involved in something very dangerous, just when he’s finally starting to come back to life.

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Interested in the best of the domestic thrillers of 2016?  Then turn to The Ex by Alafair Burke. Our protagonist is Olivia Randall, a top criminal defense lawyer.  Twenty years ago, she was engaged to marry Jack Harris, but things fell apart.  Now she finds out he’s being charged with a triple homicide, and that one of the victims was connected to the murder of his wife.  Of course he has to be innocent, she believes; the man she knew was incapable of doing something so horrible.  She takes on his defense, hoping to make it up to him for what she did to him twenty years before.  She’s sure someone’s framing him, but why would anyone go to such lengths to ruin him?  As she prepares her defense, however, and begins to confront the evidence against him, she begins to doubt everything she thought she knew about her former fiancee.  Twists and turns aplenty in this novel of psychological suspense.

 

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For a different kind of mystery, Noah Hawley’s Before the Fall involves the crash of a private plane leaving from Martha’s Vineyard and the deaths of eight out of ten of the people aboard the plane.  The two survivors are a down-on-his-luck painter and a four year old boy, the last remaining member of a wealthy family.  The book alternates chapters between the immediate aftermath of the crash in the sea and the backstories of the different people who were in the plane, and the mystery of what actually caused the accident deepens.  Was it just a coincidence that all these powerful people were on that plane and it happened to crash or was something more sinister going on?  When I mention that the book is written by the screenwriter of the movie Fargo, that gives you a hint that there’s complicated machinations going on and that you’re in the hands of a master.

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And finally in the best novel category is a book I personally consider one of my favorites that I read this past year, Jane Steele, by Lyndsay Faye.  I wrote it up last year here https://fieldlibraryadults.wordpress.com/2016/03/26/jane-steele-a-rollicking-read-for-those-who-love-victorian-novels/, and although I’m not one of the people voting on the Edgars this year, I would be lying if I said I didn’t want this one to be the winner, if only because it was so much fun to read.  If you haven’t read it, I encourage you to pick it up now and enjoy it before the awards come out.

 

BEST FIRST NOVEL BY AN AMERICAN AUTHOR

 

Here at the Field Library we have a few of the nominees in this category as well, a few of which have already been previewed in this blog. For those who are doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, I just want to mention that all of these qualify as debut novels to fulfill that category.

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One is I Q, by Joe Ide, written up here https://fieldlibraryadults.wordpress.com/2016/11/14/a-new-and-different-sherlock-holmes-iq/, which takes the idea of Sherlock Holmes with his brilliance and his quirks and translates them to a young black man living in modern day Los Angeles.

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Another is Dodgers by Bill Beverly, combines the crime story with a coming of age novel. Our protagonist, East, is a young man involved with a Los Angeles drug gang.  Sent by his uncle with some other teenagers, including his dangerous and hotheaded younger brother, out east to Wisconsin to kill a witness, East finds himself in an America he knows nothing about and hasn’t even imagined, and the road trip changes him and his perspective on the world.

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The Drifter by Nicholas Petrie introduces us to Peter Ash, a veteran of the Afghanistan and Iraq wars who’s come home with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and all he wants to do at first is get away from humanity, living in the wild.  But when he learns that one of his Marine companions committed suicide, Peter wants to help the widow with some work around the house.  In the course of that help, Peter discovers first a large, mean and ugly dog, and then a suitcase filled with explosives and money.  Naturally he starts looking into those discoveries, and he finds himself in the middle of a gigantic plot, and is in danger of being dragged back into the world he thought he’d escaped.

 

HEARTSTONE: JANE AUSTEN’S DRAGONS

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Imagine what would happen if Jane Austen and Anne McCaffrey collaborated on a book: Pride and Prejudice meets The Dragonriders of Pern? If your mind is boggling in a good way by the very thought, then you’re in luck because, while that particular collaboration isn’t going to happen, instead we have Heartstone by Elle Katharine White, which brings the social settings and restrictions of Georgian British society into a different world in which gryphons, direwolves, banshees, lamias and lindworms threaten human society and dragons, wyverns and warriors fight to defend humanity.

If you’re thinking this could be as artificial and unsatisfying (well, I found it artificial and unsatisfying, though of course your mileage may vary) as the 2009 mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, by Seth Grahame-Smith, give Heartstone a try.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised, because this is more than a mere addition of epic fantasy elements to the plot and characters of Pride and Prejudice; it’s a rethinking of the whole world of Jane Austen, with affection for her characters and their situations.

Aliza Bentaine, Heartstone’s protagonist, has already lost one sister to the invasion of gryphons and is hoping the Riders Lord Merybourne has hired to hunt down the gryphons will render her home safe again.  She’s less than pleased to discover the serious personality defects of one of those riders, the haughty but handsome Alistair Daired, and almost immediately the two of them clash, strong willed and sharp-witted as they both are.  But there’s more going on than the mating game, and Aliza and Alistair find themselves dragged into a mystery involving something much more dangerous even than gryphons, something that could destroy the foundations of the kingdom itself, perhaps even the world.

For those doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Heartstone counts double: as a debut novel and a fantasy novel.  Just saying.

 

FEBRUARY FIELD NOTES BOOK SELECTION: UNACCUSTOMED EARTH

Fresh from reading and discussing a book about the importance of reading, with special attention to short stories (The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, in which every chapter was preceded by a paragraph discussing a particular famous story), the Field Notes Book Group will be reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s Unaccustomed Earth, a collection of short stories, for our February discussion.

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Lahiri is the Pulitzer Prize winning author of Interpreter of Maladies and The Namesake (the latter of which was made into a movie), and this collection of stories was chosen to top the list of the Ten Best Books of the Year by the New York Times, in addition to winning the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award.

The stories are about Indian American characters and their adjustments to their mixed cultures, the traditional and the modern, the Indian and the American, and we expect to have our usual lively and far ranging discussion when we meet on February 18 from 11 to 12:30 at the Field Library Gallery, where we will, as usual, share coffee and donuts with our insights.  Come and join us!  Copies of the book will be available starting this week at the Field Library.

Oh, and if you happen to be doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, Unaccustomed Earth happens to cover two categories — a collection of short stories by a female author and a book about immigration.

 

 

THE SECRETS THAT HAUNT YOU: NEW MYSTERIES AT THE FIELD

Hidden secrets are a mainstay of thrillers and mysteries. The things you don’t want anyone to know about you, the things that could destroy you if people found out: those are motives for all kinds of terrible behaviors.  Let’s showcase a couple of new mysteries which turn on the questions of secrets, in different ways.

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One of the most obvious problems with hidden secrets is that they can be the basis of blackmail, and that’s the heart of The Dark Room, by Jonathan Moore. Gavin Cain, a San Francisco homicide investigator, is yanked from the middle of an exhumation and brought back to the mayor’s office to investigate a potentially horrifying case of extortion against the city’s mayor.  The unknown blackmailer has sent the mayor four incriminating and terrible pictures involving a young woman and what looks like rape, and has threatened to reveal more unless the mayor commits suicide himself. Racing against time, Cain has to find and stop the blackmailer, but he keeps running into the web of secrets with which the mayor surrounds himself.

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What’s worse than having hidden secrets that other people want to keep secret?  Not knowing what those secrets might be, and still being pursued for them. In Burning Bright, by Nick Petrie, an investigative journalist is on the run from people who tried to kidnap her days before.  She thinks they’re looking for something that belonged to her mother, but her mother recently died in an accident and can’t help her. She needs time to figure out what’s going on, what her mother was up to and what she can do to keep herself safe from her unknown pursuers.  She enlists the help of war veteran Peter Ash and their trail takes them to an eccentric recluse, a disturbing shadowy military organization, and a tool that might change the world as they know it.

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Sometimes you run away from the secrets of your past but they still remain, waiting to pop up again and ruin your life.  At least, that’s what Australian Federal Agent Aaron Falk experiences in Jane Harper’s debut novel* The Dry. Twenty years ago, Falk was accused of murder and his best friend Luke provided a steadfast alibi that prevented Falk from being prosecuted, but not from being treated with suspicion by most of the people in the town, who doubted the alibi and believed Falk guilty.  Falk and his father fled the area, and Falk hoped never to have to return, but now Luke is dead, and Falk returns to the town for the funeral, discovering in the process that someone else knows that he and Luke lied all those years ago.  Falk becomes involved in the investigation into Luke’s death, amidst the worst drought in a century, and long buried secrets, Falk’s and others’, surface. This book has gotten advance praise from David Baldacci, among others, so you know you’re in for a wild ride.

 

*Yes, this does qualify as a debut novel for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, just in case you’re wondering.

THE PAST IS ALL AROUND US: NEW HISTORICAL FICTION

Fascinated by the way the past shapes the present? Eager to get away from the modern world and become absorbed in different times and places? Come to the Field Library and check out some of our newest historical fiction, ranging from the Civil War South through the old West, through Hungary and Paris in the aftermath of the 1956 uprising, based on real events sometimes and based on beloved fictional characters in other cases.

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While there are a lot of books about the Civil War, both fiction and nonfiction, The Second Mrs. Hockaday, by Susan Rivers, takes a unique look at the people behind the lines in the South.  Placidia, the protagonist, is just a teenager when she meets Major Hockaday.  She marries him within two days (!!), mostly because she wants to get away from home and become an adult.  However, he’s soon called away to the Civil War, leaving her alone on a farm she has no idea how to run, with all the privations of the Southern experience of the war ahead of her.  Two years later, Major Hockaday has returned to his home to find her on her way to jail, charged with having given birth to, and then murdering, a child which couldn’t possibly be his.  What happened to her in the meantime? How did she go from being a naive teenager to a possible murderer?  This book, told at least partially in the form of letters, journal entries and court reports, is based on a real life case, intriguing and revealing.

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I confess to having a soft spot for authors who take on famous characters and put their own spin on the characters and books, if they do a good job.  Robert Coover has the audacity to imagine the life of Huckleberry Finn after the end of Mark Twain’s book, and the result is Huck Out West.  At first, Tom Sawyer and Huck are working together on the Pony Express, but Tom becomes a hero and feels the pull of civilization, going back East to marry Becky Thatcher and get a law degree (Tom Sawyer? A lawyer? Hard to imagine, isn’t it?).  Huck, not one for rules and regulations, continues out West alone, where he acts as a scout for both sides in the Civil War, joins a bandit gang (now that sounds more appropriate), makes an ill-fated friend in the army and in a Lakota Sioux tribe, and ends up in the Black Hills just before the Gold Rush there.  Along the way,  he runs into Tom again, and Becky Thatcher and even Jim, facing his past and coming to some hard decisions.  Outside of my favorite fictional historical character (Harry Flashman), I can hardly imagine a better guide to the ins and outs of the wild west than Huck Finn.

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For something completely different (to quote Monty Python), The Afterlife of Stars by Joseph Kertes, takes us to the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, and two young brothers living in Budapest just before the Russian tanks roll in to crush the revolution.  The two boys, Robert and Attila Beck, flee with their family to Paris, to stay with their Great Aunt Hermina.  Growing up in exile, the boys deal with the usual pains of sibling rivalry and family issues, grapple with family secrets and terrible loss as well.  A sharp and vivid look at a period of recent history many of us aren’t familiar with, and a story about becoming adults in a world that is changing faster than you are, The Afterlife of Stars is moving and funny, a shining example of what historical fiction can be.

 

FANTASTIC JANUARY

Let’s start the new year fantastically: check out our new fantasy novels coming out this week at the Field Library.

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It may seem a bit redundant to be reading a book set in Russia in winter at this time of year, especially if you look to reading to give you an escape from the ordinary world, but The Bear and the Nightingale, by Katherine Arden*, is beautiful and strange enough that you might very well be willing to enter into the depths of a Russian winter in the middle of a New York winter as well.  Vasilisa, the protagonist, is a girl living with her parents and her siblings in a cabin in the woods at the beginning of the novel, listening to fairy tales of old Russia, and particularly those having to do with Frost, the demon of winter, both cruel and kind.  She and her family have a sensible caution about Frost’s power and potential danger, and pay careful heed to the house spirits which protect them from Frost.  In true fairytale fashion, Vasilisa’s mother dies and her father goes to the city to find a new bride. The woman he brings home, however, is modern and religious and forbids the family from its old fashioned placating of the house spirits.  Vasilisa and the other children comply but Vasilisa knows this is going to cause trouble down the line, and indeed, things do start going wrong: crops fail, weather intensifies, evil creatures out of legend stalk the area, and Vasilisa’s new stepmother bears down harder and harder on her, trying to break her rebellious spirit and make her a good candidate for marriage or the convent.  In the end, Vasilisa has to take matters into her own hands and use powers she’s never even admitted having, to protect her family from a danger that could have come from the fairy tales their nurse used to tell them.  

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If winter in Russia is too much to face in January, then perhaps you’d rather take a trip to ancient Troy and the retelling of the story of the Trojan War in For the Most Beautiful, by Emily Hauser**.  The Trojan War has been told in many different forms, from The Iliad and The Odyssey of Homer to The Aeneid, to Trojan Women to the Orestes cycle of plays, and Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida through modern retellings such as the movie, Troy.  This version starts with some of the women involved in the war, notably Krisayis, daughter of the high priest of Troy, and Briseis, princess of Pedasus, and interweaves their stories with the more familiar tales of Achilles and Hector, of Helen and Agamemnon, Odysseus and the gods, leading up to the tragic battles that led to the deaths of Hector and Achilles, the deployment of the Trojan Horse and the fall of one of the greatest cities of the ancient world. There’s much in this cycle of stories, whether they’re based on actual history or based on mythology, that has fascinated people for thousands of years, but the classic stories have paid much more attention to the men involved, and this book brings us a much needed balance by showing us the female side of the legend.

Stay tuned; there are more intriguing new fantasy novels due to hit our shelves in the next couple of weeks, and we’ll be covering them soon.

* Which, for those of us doing the 2017 Reading Challenge, qualifies both as a fantasy novel AND a debut novel, covering two categories.  Using one book for two categories is entirely kosher and even recommended.

**Also a debut novel and fantasy novel, if you’re keeping track.

NEW JANUARY BOOK CLUB SELECTION: THE STORIED LIFE OF A. J. FIKRY

I know we said, back in November, that the Field Notes Book Group was going to read Rohinton Mistry’s A Fine Balance for the January selection.  However, having waded through A Fine Balance and feeling that it was too depressing to spend an hour and a half discussion, and after consultation with members of the book group, we’ve changed our January selection to The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin.

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Not only is this book much happier than A Fine Balance, but it’s substantially shorter, and can be easily read in the time between now and January 21, and there are numerous copies available at the library for checkout.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry, which happens to satisfy one of the categories for the 2017 Reading Challenge (for those who are participating: the category is “Read a book about books”), starts with our protagonist, A. J. Fikry, in a really bad situation.  His wife died in a car accident, his bookstore is failing, he’s drinking too much and he’s utterly miserable. He’s even pushing away people who want to help him, like the town’s police officer and the new publisher’s representative who visits his store.  He thinks he’s found a way out: his first edition of Edgar Allan Poe’s first book.  He could, he figures, sell it and use the proceeds to get off the island where he lives, where too many of his memories of his happier life remain.  But then his first edition is stolen and the thieves can’t be found, and he feels he’s hit rock bottom.

Of course, this is when a baby is left in his bookstore by her despondent mother, who subsequently commits suicide (you’re thinking, “Wait! You said this is a happier book!” and all I can say is, this is the setup, and things do get better).  A. J., despite himself, decides to keep the baby, who’s named Maya, and bring her up even though he’d be a single father with an irregular income and no prior experience with raising children.

And thus begins a tale of A. J.’s transformation and Maya’s growing up and the changes these things bring to the town and the people A. J.’s come into contact with.  His sister-in-law, Ismay, her husband the once famous author, the police chief, the bookseller’s representative and many other characters come to life in this book which reflects on the importance of books and bookstores as well as the importance of our connections to each other.

Come and read The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry and then join us on January 21 from 11 to 12:30 to share discussion and snacks.