Fiction Previews, February 2012, Pt. 2: From Cheeky Houston to Next Latin American Wonder Neuman

Fury, Dalton. Black Site: A Delta Force Novel. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2012. 340p. ISBN 9780312668372. $25.99. CD: Macmillan Audio. THRILLER
A former Delta Force operator, Kolt Raynor made a bad decision that got his teammates killed or captured. Now he’s set to redeem himself by finding the captives, held somewhere in Pakistan’s badlands. Instead, he stumbles upon a nasty al-Qaeda plot. Former Delta Force troop commander Fury, the senior ranking military officer at the 2001 Battle of Tora Bora in Afghanistan, wrote the best-selling Kill bin Laden, about his assignment to do just that, so you know this fiction debut will have authentic detail.

Gage, Eleni N. Other Waters. St. Martin’s. Feb. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780312658519. $25.99. LITERARY
Sophisticated psychiatry resident Maya does not believe that her family has been cursed because of an argument after her grandmother’s death in India. But then her father falls ills, her sister miscarries, and her own life starts to shred. So it’s off to India to find some way to remove the curse‚ and to encounter the subcontinent’s fascinating colors and culture. A big publicity push for this debut; watch.

Gray, Amelia. Threats. Farrar. Feb. 2011. 272p. ISBN 9780374533076. pap. $14. LITERARY SUSPENSE
Retired dentist David is convinced that his wife is dead, but he’s got some mysteries to sort through before he understands what really happened. Meanwhile, creepy messages (you will hear us talking but when you come into the room we will stop talking) start appearing around the house. Gray’s second story collection, Museum of the Weird, was given the Ronald Sukenick American Book Review Prize for Innovative Fiction 2010, and this debut novel‚ weirder still?‚ is backed by a 40,000-copy first printing and some in-house enthusiasm. So definitely consider where folks line up for smart and scary.

Hassman, Tupelo. Girlchild. Farrar. Jan. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780374162573. $23. POP FICTION
Told that she’s destined for nothing (except maybe whoredom), Rory Hendrix is determined to lift herself by any means possible out of the Reno trailer park where she lives with her mom‚ and especially by following all the advice found in the Girl Scout handbook. A sweet-hearted debut that women’s reading groups should consider.

Hore, Rachel. A Place of Secrets. Holt. Feb. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780805094497. pap. $15. LITERARY/MYSTERY
A capable auctioneer, the recently widowed Jude hopes to overcome her grief by accepting an assignment outside of London to assess the value of a collection of scientific instruments belonging to 18th-century astronomer Anthony Wickham. Once in Norfolk, she learns that Wickham’s life has spooky links to her own, which might explain a recurrent nightmare she had as a child‚ a nightmare now being visited upon her niece. Having sold over 100,000 copies in the U.K., this book looks good for those who enjoy literary mystery with historic threads; think Kate Morton or maybe A.S. Byatt’s Possession or, for the 18th-century astronomy, Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant.

Houston, Pam. Contents May Have Shifted. Norton. Feb. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780393082654. $25.95. POP FICTION
Houston’s protagonist really is up in the air, relentlessly traveling to get away from a dead-end relationship and her dead-end self. In fact, the short-short chapters are mostly named for places she visits, from Alaska to Bhutan. Does she find love and self-understanding with the help of wise, witty friends? Maybe. Fun fiction from the author of Cowboys Are My Weakness; with a six-city tour to Boulder/Denver, Salt Lake City, Seattle, Portland, San Francisco, and New York.

Neuman, Andrés. Traveler of the Century. Farrar. Feb. 2012. 528p. ISBN 9780374119393. $30. LITERARY
Having helped launch Roberto Bola√±o in America, the publisher now turns to promising young Argentine author Neuman, chosen as one of Granta‘s Best of Young Spanish-Language Novelists and as one of the Bogotá 39, a group of talented Latin American authors featured a few years back at a UNESCO’s World Book Capital/Hay Literary Festival event. Bola√±o himself said, The literature of the 21st century will belong to Neuman. An Alfaguara prize winner, this novel focuses on mysterious traveler Hans, who engages in philosophical debate with an organ-grinder in a small town on the Saxon-Prussian border, then launches an affair with spirited nonconformist Sophie. Clearly a novel of ideas; given Neuman’s rep, I can’t wait to see what the writing is like.

Odell, Jonathan. The Healing. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Feb. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780385534673. $26. Downloadable: Random Audio.
Devastated by the loss of her child, plantation mistress Amanda Satterfield does the unthinkable, taking a newborn slave child (whom she names Granada) and raising her as her own. Meanwhile, illness is overwhelming the plantation’s slaves, so Master Satterfield buys Polly Shine, renowned as a healer. Polly see that Granada, too, has the healer’s gift, and her presence at the plantation brings roiling trouble. Odell, author of The View from Delphi, set in pre‚ Civil Rights Mississippi, researched the WPA’s first-person slave narratives to get the details right. Nice noises about this book; already there’s a video.

Renner, James. The Man from Primrose Path. Sarah Crichton Bks: Farrar. Feb. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780374200954. $26. LITERARY SUSPENSE
An elderly recluse who always wore mittens, the man from Primrose Path is murdered, and true-crime author David Neff battles grief over his wife’s suicide by getting absorbed in the case. He soon comes to realize that his own dark obsessions play into both deaths. A twisty debut blending horror, suspense, and time travel that’s attracted in-house support and has real commercial potential.

St. Aubyn, Edward. At Last. Farrar. Feb. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780374298890. $25.
In this wrap-up to a trilogy on the Melrose family (the second novel, Mother’s Milk, was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize), Patrick Melrose’s do-gooding but negligent heiress mom has finally died, and Patrick is waiting for the sense of relief to dawn. Good stuff for thoughtful readers and with Ellen Ullman’s By Blood the publisher’s lead fiction for the month.

Scott, Kim. That Deadman Dance. Bloomsbury USA, dist. by Macmillan. Feb. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9781608197057. $25.
When Europeans arrive in Australia, Bobby Wabalanginy cheerfully hunts and farms with them and eventually enters a wealthy white household, where he falls in love with the daughter. But the colony isn’t thriving, odd accidents are plaguing both whites and Aboriginals, and soon Bobby will have to take sides. The son of a white mother and Aboriginal father, Scott should invest this story with great understanding, and his book comes highly recommended after having won the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for the South East Asia and Pacific Region. Watch closely.

Ullman, Ellen. By Blood. Farrar. Feb. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780374117559. $27.
In 1970s San Francisco, an ousted professor takes an office downtown, hears a patient conversing with her therapist in the thin-walled room next door, and is soon wrapped up in the patient’s story. The woman has tracked her roots back to a Catholic charity that trafficked in freshly baptized orphans after World War II, and the professor quickly (if anonymously) helps carry the quest from there. The author of PEN/Hemingway finalist The Bug, as well as the popular memoir Close to the Machine, Ullman has an intriguing premise I hope to investigate myself. Lots of in-house enthusiasm.

Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (, @BarbaraHoffert on Twitter) is Editor, LJ Prepub Alert; past chair of the Materials Selection Committee of the RUSA (Reference and User Services Assn.) division of the American Library Association; and past president, treasurer, and awards chair of the National Book Critics Circle.