Fiction Previews, March 2012, Pt. 1: From Jonathan Kellerman (twice) to Begley, Behrens, and Julavits

Barden, Dan. The Next Right Thing. Dial. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780385343404. $26; eISBN 9780679644354. LITERARY/THRILLER
Big-time Southern California homebuilder Randy Chalmers owes it all to friend, lawyer, and Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor Terry Elias. So when Terry is found dead of a heroin overdose after years of sobriety, Randy is not only shocked but angry enough to launch his own investigation (he’s a former policeman). Sounds like a typical suspense novel, but since Jennifer Egan and Jonathan Lethem are raving about it, it’s obviously something more. With Barden unpacking the recovery process and the repercussions of repressing secrets, this should pass over to literary types as well.

Begley, Louis. Schmidt Steps Back. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780307700650. $25.95; eISBN 9780307957351. LITERARY
Hispanic waitress Carrie has spurned his marriage proposal, and daughter Charlotte remains chilly, but lawyer Albert (Schmidtie) Schmidt is back for another round (after About Schmidt and Schmidt Delivered). Now that both women are otherwise engaged (and both are pregnant), Schmidt is wondering how good he’ll be at persuading the French widow of a former partner to take an interest in him. Begley is always sparkly and acerbic; buy where he has a following.

Behrens, Peter. The O’Briens. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780307379931. $25.95; eISBN 9780307907097. LITERARY
Joe O’Brien starts out in the Canadian wilds, becomes a railroad magnate, marries the lovely Iseult Wilkins (whom he meets in California), and ends up as patriarch of the family at the heart of this amazing epic, as the folks at Pantheon describe it. Given all the in-house excitement and Behrens’s having won the Governor General’s Literary Award in Fiction for his previous novel, The Law of Dreams, I’m chagrined to admit that I’m unfamiliar with his work and am eagerly anticipating this introduction.

Brockmann, Suzanne. Born to Darkness. Ballantine. Feb. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780345521279. $26; eISBN 9780345521293. ROMANTIC SUSPENCE
The doyenne of romantic suspense, with Romance Writers of America’s No. 1 Favorite Book three years in a row, Brockmann looks to the future in this series starter. Mac, one of the lucky few being trained at the Obermeyer Institute, where methods to enhance latent talents like telekinesis and telepathy have been perfected, obeys all the rules but one: she just doesn’t buy into the idea of celibacy. Too bad the Navy SEAL hunk she’s just spent the night with is a new recruit. Buy multiples where Brockmann is popular.

Eastland, Sam. Archive 17. Bantam. Mar. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780345525734. $25; eISBN 9780345525758. THRILLER
Inspector Pekkala is back in the Gulag, where he once languished as a former tsarist guard. No, he hasn’t done anything criminal or dissident. But Stalin has heard that a Gulag prisoner knows where tsarist gold is buried and wants Pekkala to weasel the information out of him. Stalin needs funds to prepare for war with Germany, never mind that it’s 1939 and the two countries have just signed the Non-Aggression Pact. Eastland is picking up on hints that Stalin was in fact contemplating a preemptive strike, which could make this thriller fascinating to history readers as well as thriller buffs.

French, Nicci. Blue Monday. Pamela Dorman: Viking. Mar. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780670023363. $26.95. THRILLER
The husband-and-wife team that has given us international best sellers like Complicit launches a new series starring psychotherapist Frieda Klein. A solitary sort suspicious of the world’s messiness, she is caught up short by the abduction of five-year-old Matthew Farraday, which has Britain in an uproar. Matthew looks just like the child invading the dreams of Klein’s new patient, Alan Dekker, who’s obsessed with the idea of fatherhood. Now Klein is part of the investigation. Should be good.

Glass, Matthew. Trigger Point. Atlantic Monthly. Mar. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780802119971. $25. THRILLER
Glass’s debut thriller, Ultimatum, was highly recommended by venues like the Economist, though some readers evidently resisted the serious discussion and global-warming premise. They might have trouble with the high-minded approach in this second work, set in 2018. When 32 American aid workers are massacred in Uganda, the President sends in troops‚ never mind that this is China’s sphere of influence. Later, when stock prices fall and it’s revealed that the Chinese State Investment Corporation is a major shareholder in a U.S. investment bank refusing bailout, the question of retaliation arises‚ as does financial panic. An upscale thriller.

Harkaway, Nick. Angelmaker. Knopf. Mar. 2012. 496p. ISBN 9780307595959. $26.95; eISBN 9780307595973. SF/THRILLER
In stark contrast to his London gangster father, Joe Spork makes a living repairing clocks. But the device he repairs for Edie Banister, not just a sweet old lady but a former superspy (think Helen Mirren in Red or The Debt?), turns out to be a 1950s-era doomsday machine. That prompts sharp reaction from both the British government and a South Asian dictator Edie sparred with ages ago, and soon hapless Joe is brought into the renewed hostilities. Obviously, Harkaway here repeats the sometimes funny sf-tinged thrillerish tone of his well-received debut, The Gone-Away World. Buy wherever that book did well.

Hawley, Noah. The Good Father. Doubleday. Mar. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780385535533. $24.95.
Dr. Paul Allen faces the worst thing a parent could imagine: his son, likable and reasonably smart but increasingly dislocated after his parents’ divorce, has dropped out of school and, after floating around the country, has been caught on camera shooting a Democratic candidate for President. Now Paul is about to learn what standing by one’s child really means. This story of guilt and love by Hawley, both a novelist and a screenwriter/producer (he was responsible for Bones), should do especially well with book clubs.

Julavits, Heidi. The Vanishers. Doubleday. Mar. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780385523813. $25.95.
Madame Ackermann, who heads up an elite school for psychics, refuses to cede power to talented student Julie Severn and eventually cripples her with a fierce psychic attack. Julie returns to the humdrum world but is soon asked to help find a missing person‚ an artist with ties to Julie’s mother, who committed suicide when Julie was an enfant. Sounds like another ambitious novel from Julavits, this one edging into paranormal territory and dwelling on intense and unequal relations between women. Attractive to your not-average reader.

Kellerman, Jonathan (text) & Michael Gaydos (illus.); adapted by Ande Parks. Silent Partner: The Graphic Novel. Villard. Mar. 2012. 128p. ISBN 9780440423638. $23. THRILLER/GRAPHIC NOVEL
Published at the same time as Kellerman’s latest thriller (see below) and the mass-market release of 2011’s Mystery, this graphic rendering of a previous Alex Delaware story is calculated to please Kellerman fans while attracting GN readers who might not know his work (though, given Kellerman’s popularity, what are the odds?). Comic books illustrator Gaydos provides appropriately noirish black-and-white art. Certainly buy for your GN collection.

Kellerman, Jonathan. Victims. Ballantine. Mar. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780345505712. $28; eISBN 9780345505712. lrg. prnt. CD: Random Audio.
The acidulous Vita Berlin made lots of enemies in her lifetime, but psychologist Alex Delaware doubts that that’s what led to her death. As victims dispatched by the same method but with no connection to Vita begin piling up, LAPD Lt. Milo Sturgis is forced to agree. Some creep out there seems to be striking at random. An obvious biggie; buy multiples.

Levine, Sara. Treasure Island!!! Tonga: Europa. Jan. 2011. 176p. ISBN 9781609450618 . pap. $15. LITERARY
Here I must confess an error. Back in August, I listed this book as a memoir; in a conversation with some publicists, I mistook the time-honored fiction-in-the-voice-of-a-quirky-narrator as the real thing. In fact, Levine, who teaches at the Art Institute of Chicago and is evidently a whole lot nicer than her troublesome narrator, has crafted a sassy first novel about a woman needing a life fix who hooks onto Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island as her salvation. After all, there’s so much to learn from hero Jim Hawkins: courage, resolution…and horn-blowing. Clearly, among other things, this rather spoofs the whole heal-myself memoir genre‚ and I got taken. I really do like this better as fiction, and since Alice Sebold liked it, too, selecting it for publication, you can’t go wrong.

Novik, Naomi. Crucible of Gold. Del Rey: Ballantine. Mar. 2011. 304p. ISBN 9780345522863. $25. FANTASY
In the seventh in the series featuring Capt. Will Laurence and his fighting dragon Temeraire, set during the Napoleonic era, the British government calls our heroes out of forced retirement to negotiate with a powerful African nation that has allied itself with the French. They head first for Brazil with two other dragons in tow but face real danger when they must land in hostile Incan territory. (Wow, really revisionist history.) Fans will love, but if you’re not an sf reader, why should you care? Because Academy Award‚ winning director Peter Jackson has just optioned the first six volumes of this series.

Perry, Thomas. Poison Flower: A Jane Whitefield Novel. Mysterious: Grove/Atlantic. Mar. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780802126054. $24. THRILLER
Perry’s Jane Whitefield novels are always intense‚ Vanishing Act was named one of the 100 Favorite Mysteries of the Century by the Independent Mystery Booksellers Association‚ but this seventh entry in the series seems geared to crack open our skulls. Having managed to spring James Shelby from the closely guarded courtroom where he’s been unjustly convicted of killing his wife, Jane has been kidnapped by employees of the real killer and is now being pressed rather harshly to reveal Shelby’s whereabouts. Even as she escapes, criminal types are bidding big figures for the privilege of torturing her to reveal the names of those she has helped disappear. Whoa, too scary for me, but fans will love.

Vachss. Andrew. That’s How I Roll. Pantheon. Mar. 2012. 224p. ISBN 9780307379948. $25.95; eISBN 9780307907134. THRILLER
Born of a supremely abusive father and his own sister, Esau Till is trouble from day one‚ a self-taught explosives expert and hired killer for rival mobs who ends up on death row. He’s also seriously smart, while younger brother Tory is a little slow. This book unfolds as Esau’s effort to tell his life story in a bid to protect Tory after his own death. A lawyer who represents children exclusively, Vachss writes raw, eye-opening works that deserve our attention.

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.