Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Is Intrigue the Marriage of Fiction and Mystery--Four Boswell's Best Authors (Lam, Lippman, Black and Gillham) Straddle the Line.

Here are several new titles on the Boswell’s Best list, which are all featured in the front of the store, and 20% off, at least through August 20, though most likely through the 27th.

The city of women in David R. Gillham’s new novel, City of Women (Amy Einhorn), is Berlin during World War II. Sigrid Schröder is a model soldier’s wife with a secret Jewish lover in her past who becomes involved in a plot to hide Jews from the Nazis. Did I mention there’s a high-ranking SS officer who lives down the hall from her. The publishers are hoping that folks will see this is somewhere between the espionage of Alan Furst and Philip Kerr with perhaps some of the female market of The Paris Wife. In a bit of a coup, Alan Furst has called this an “excellent novel” that is “built on one of the most extraordinary and faithful recreations of a time in history—Berlin in World War II—that I’ve ever read” while Paula McLain notes that City of Women is a “moving and masterful debut.”

I have mentioned in the past that publishers are working hard to get reads for books about which they are particularly enthused. City of Women’s advance copy came with a note from Amy Einhorn herself, hand written no less. It just shows that while some authors complain that their books don’t get the support they think they deserve, lots of folks are working very hard to position books just right? The problem is the same one we face with our events—you just can’t do everything for every single book. But they sure are working hard for this one and it should pay off in media attention. in The New York Daily News, Sherryl Connelly notes “Gillham takes that which is well-worn and infuses it with fresh suspense.”

We all know that some of the best written fiction out there is coming from the mystery genre. And when a Man Booker winner devotes more time to a mystery series under a pen name than he does to the non-genre stuff under his own name, something’s up. In the new Benjamin Black book, Vengeance (Henry Holt), Detective Inspector Hackett and his sometime partner Quirke investigate the suicide of a successful Dublin businessman, Victor Delahaye. The only witness? His partner’s son. Needless to say, something’s amiss.

As Janet Maslin notes in the The New York Times, “The Black books have been lovely and luminous, to the point of almost eclipsing Mr. Banville’s primary oeuvre. And the two careers have run closely parallel at times. Benjamin Black’s current Vengeance will be followed in only two months by the latest Banville work, Ancient Light." And he’ll also be the new voice of classic crime writer Philip Marlowe.

To me, Laura Lippman has gone in the opposite direction from John Banville/Benjamin Black. She started with a series (Baltimore Blues, Charm City et al) and as that series continued, it became quite a bit darker and infused with more of the moral quandaries of a novel. It’s gotten to the point where her stand-alones outnumber the series. Where Banville seems freed by the lack of expectations on mystery fiction, Lippman seems to long for new characters and situations, instead of wrapping them around the career of Tess Monaghan. Or so it seems--I haven't talked to either author!

In the new novel, And When She Was Good (William Morrow), Heloise Lewis, a soccer mom whose everyday suburban life is a cover for her prostitute ring, opens the paper to find a suicide of a woman in a similar practice. Things don’t bode well for Heloise, especially because the business is already fraying. Kendal Weaver for the Associated Press (I link to the Stamford Advocate because for some reason, the Washington Post doesn’t give the author credit on their website)  comments that Lippman takes a heroine that should be repugnant, and humanizes her. As she says, “it's hard not to pull for her. In the end, it's even harder to forget her.”

And finally, a book that our buyer Jason told me he enjoyed Vincnent Lam’s novel, The Headmaster’s Wager (Hogarth), is the follow up the acclaimed, Scotiabank Giller prize winning Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. The new novel is set in 1960s Saigon and follows a Percival Chen, the headmaster of an English academy. Things are getting dicey, and his connections only go so far, especially when his son gets in trouble with authorities. Oh, and when he gets lonely, he hooks up with Jacqueline, who is of French and Vietnamese blood. Did I mention that Vincent is not Vietnamese, but Chinese? Oh, and the war--you know nothing good can come of this.

Because Lam is a Canadian (and a doctor!), most of the trade press reviews are Canadian, which is great with me. John Barber in the Globe and Mail notes “Lam's hugely impressive first novel, The Headmaster's Wager, has all the markings." (Note: this is the markings of a masterpiece, referred to in the last sentence. Doesn’t he know that structuring his review in this fashion makes it much more difficult to quote from?) And the Montreal Gazette proclaims The Headmaster’s Wager is “more than just an absorbing read. It’s a testament and memorial in fiction to a community that no longer exists."

Hey, look at the good reviews a Canadian can get in the United States. Publishers, maybe you should take another look at Shauna Singh Baldwin. Her new, The Selector of Souls, is coming out shortly in Canada and still doesn’t have an American publisher. I haven’t read the new novel, but I thought the last one novel, The Tiger Claw, also not published in the United States, was great. Here’s her piece “Why American Sikhs will Survive” that was recently published by CNN in the wake of the Oak Creek temple shooting.

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