Fiction Previews, July 2012, Pt. 1: Gardiner, Grazer, Mathews, Suarez, Walters

Ampuero, Roberto. The Neruda Case. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9781594487439. $26.95. MYSTERY
Chilean-born Ampuero’s series starring private eye Cayetano Brulé are best sellers worldwide, but though the author has been teaching at the University of Iowa since 2000 (having spent time in Cuba, East Germany, West Germany, and Sweden), this is his first publication in English. Upon meeting Neruda at a party in pre-Pinochet Chile, Brulé is asked to solve a mystery troubling the great poet and finds himself traveling far afield (to Cuba, East Berlin‚Ķ) for that purpose. Not just for mystery fans‚ or readers of Latin American literature.

Baker, J.I. The Empty Glass. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780399158193. $24.95. THRILLER
Baker, executive editor of Condé Nast Traveler, offers a first novel about a woman who’s starred in a lot of fiction lately: Marilyn Monroe. Maybe it’s the 50th anniversary of her death, coming in August 2012‚ or maybe she just seems so relevant as both symbol and victim of an outsize celebrity culture. Here, Los Angeles County Deputy Coroner Ben Fitzgerald arrives at the scene of Monroe’s death and finds her diary, which reveals a doomed affair with “The General; soon he scents a cover-up in the making.

Brookmyre, Christopher. Where the Bodies Are Buried. Atlantic Monthly. Jul. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780802120250. $25; eISBN 9780802194442. THRILLER
A major crime novelist from Scotland, where the really tough guys write, Brookmyre crafts the story of two different cases that eventually collide. As Detective Superintendent Catherine McLeod investigates the murder of a small-time heroin dealer (shame on him for sleeping with a drug kingpin’s girlfriend), one-time actress Jasmine Sharp must step up her efforts to learn the ropes at her Uncle Jim’s private investigation business when Jim himself disappears. This one’s gritty.

Chen, Pauline A. The Red Chamber. Knopf. Jul. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780307701572. $26.95; CD: Random House Audio. HISTORICAL
In her first adult novel, Chen, who has a doctoral degree in Asian studies from Princeton, imaginatively reworks the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber, set in 18th-century Beijing. At its heart are three women: orphaned Daiyu, who joins her cousins, scheming Xifeng and proper Baochai, in the grand imperial city. Big reading-group pitch and an accent on accessibility.

Claudel, Philippe. The Investigation. Doubleday. Jul. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780385535342. $25. LITERARY
Claudel, who here follows up award winners like Brodeck and By a Slow River (translated into 30 languages) is one French author American readers really seem to like. Here, the Investigator encounters some truly absurd‚ dare one say Kafkaesque?‚ situations as he tries to determine what is behind a string of suicides at a huge complex called Enterprise in an unnamed Town. Do keep this one in mind.

Coulter, Catherine. Backfire. Putnam. Jul. 2012. 400p. ISBN 9780399157325. $26.95. THRILLER
Here’s Coulter in FBI thriller mode, as tough federal prosecutor Mickey O’Rourke suddenly turns to jelly at the trial of putative serial killers Clive and Cindy Cahill, then gets shot in the back. FBI agents Lacey Sherlock and Dillon Savich receive the news at the same time that Savich gets a note saying You deserve this for what you did. Go, thriller fans.

Gapper, John. A Fatal Debt. Ballantine. Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780345527899. $26; eISBN 9780345527912. THRILLER
Psychiatrist Ben Cowper reluctantly agrees to treat a disgraced Wall Street biggie at home instead of at the hospital, then rushes to pick up the pieces when someone ends up dead. Gapper is a fiction newcomer but no neophyte; as chief business columnist of the Financial Times, he’s already a high-profile writer with a big blog/Twitter following. Another in the big upsweep of financial thrillers, inspired by these parlous times.

Gardiner, Meg. Ransom River. Dutton. Jul. 2012. 368p. ISBN 9780525952855. $25.95. THRILLER
Her career and her love life having dead-ended, Rory Mackenzie reluctantly returns to her hometown of Ransom River, CA. Now a juror on a big-time murder case, she starts recalling disturbing childhood memories about another case, still unsolved‚ and that could be her undoing. Attention, fans: Gardiner is refreshing herself (and us?) by departing from her Evan Delaney series.

Grazer, Gigi Levangie. The After Wife. Ballantine. Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780345523990. $25; eISBN 9780345524010. CD: Random House Audio. POP FICTION
How does newly widowed Hannah discover that she can talk the dead? She’s standing in the backyard, sobbing over the death of her husband and asking Why? when the avocado tree laconically responds, Why not? Grazer is responsible for the screenplay Stepmom, plus a bunch of novels, including The Starter Wife, inspiration for the miniseries and then the regular series on the USA Network, which gives you a good feel for her work.

Hill, Gregory. East of Denver. Dutton. Jul. 2012. 240p. ISBN 9780525952794. $25.95. POP FICTION
Suddenly caretaker of his senile father and the family farm in eastern Colorado, to which he has just returned, Stacey Shakespeare Williams links up with some old high school buddies and hatches a plan to rob the victimizing local bank. Do they really mean to go through with it? Dark comedy with an in-the-news edge; note that debut novelist Hill works for the University of Denver library.

Huston, Nancy. Infrared. Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. Jul. 2012. 272p. ISBN 9780802120274. pap. $14; eISBN 9780802194404. LITERARY
Having survived childhood and two bad marriages, cutting-edge photographer Rena Greenblatt finds herself trapped in Florence with her fading father and impossible stepmother, contemplating both Renaissance masterpieces and memories of dark, sensual moments in her past. Several of Canadian author Huston’s 11 novels are major award winners; Prix Femina winner Fault Lines is a personal favorite.

Joyce, Graham. Some Kind of Fairy Tale. Doubleday. Jul. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780385535786. $24.95. FANTASY
A girl named Tara disappears from her small English village, leaving behind a grieving but ultimately resigned family. Then 20 years later she returns‚ almost completely unchanged. Clearly, the work of a fantasist‚ Joyce has won both British Fantasy and World Fantasy awards‚ and comparisons are being made to Keith Donohue’s The Stolen Child and S.J. Waton’s When I Go To Sleep. Note, too, that Joyce’s The Silent Land was a Stephen King Summer Pick in EW‚ and act accordingly.

Kava, Alex. Fireproof: A Maggie O’Dell Novel. Doubleday. Jul. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780385535519. $24.95. THRILLER
Called in to investigate a series of suspicious fires‚ the last having left someone dead‚ special agent Maggie O’Dell is being pursued by a reporter who wants to make her part of the story. Meanwhile, she’s getting the uncomfortable feeling that this arsonist is someone close to home. New York Times best-selling author Kava cops a six-city tour (Houston, Phoenix, Denver, San Diego, San Francisco, and Minneapolis), plus giveaways on GoodReads and LibraryThing.

Lasser, Scott. Say Nice Things About Detroit. Norton. Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780393082999. $25.95. LITERARY
After his divorce and his son’s death, David Halpert seeks solace in a surprising place; he returns to his hometown, Detroit, which he left 25 years ago after graduating from high school. There he contends not only with the ongoing decay of the racially polarized town but the double shooting of an old high school girlfriend and her black half-brother. Evidence that you should consider purchasing: LJ said of Lasser’s 1999 debut, Battle Creek, All public libraries will want this, and of his recent The Year That Follows, Highly recommended.

Lawson, Mike. House Blood: A Joe DeMarco Thriller. Atlantic Monthly. Jul. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780802119940. $24; eISBN 9780802194541. THRILLER
Big pharma CEO Orson Mulray want to test a miracle drug, but human subjects‚ and autopsy results‚ are required. Sweeping that little complication under the table, he ropes in starry-eyed philanthropist Lizzie Warwick, but then her lobbyist in Washington, DC, uncovers the true nature of the plan and gets murdered for his troubles. Two years later, congressional fixer Joe DeMarco picks up the case, and things get really complicated. House Rules (2008) was a No. 1 Kindle best seller, and House Divided (2011) was an LJ best thriller of the year, so House Blood is well positioned.

Lee, Don. The Collective. Norton. Jul. 2012. 352p. ISBN 9780393083217. $25.95. LITERARY
In 1988, aspiring writer Eric Cho bonds with aspiring pianist Jessica Tsai and another writing hopeful, the gargantuanly talented Joshua Yoon, at Macalester College. Later, in Cambridge, MA, they form the 3AC, the Asian American Artists Collective, working their way through questions of love, art, idealism, and racism. Former Ploughshares editor Lee, who won the Sue Kaufman Prize for his first collection, Yellow, and both an Edgar and an American Book Award for Country of Origin, is a cracking good writer.

Mathews, Francine. Jack 1939. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9781594487194. $26.95. THRILLER
President Roosevelt wants to send someone to Europe to figure out what Hitler really intends and to prevent German funds meant to ensure Roosevelt’s loss in the 1940 election from reaching America. His choice? John F. Kennedy, the son of America’s ambassador to Britain, who’s traveling the Continent to collect data for his senior thesis. Rumor has it that this is a fun, fast-paced, sexy thriller, and as Mathews was an intelligence analyst for the CIA in the 1990s the atmosphere should be authentic.

Piccirilli, Tom. The Last Kind Words. Bantam. Jun. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780553592481. $26; eISBN 9780553906356. THRILLER
Bram Stoker and International Thriller Awards winner Piccirilli breaks into hardcover with the story of Terrier Rand, who abandons the crime life and his small-time grifter family when brother Collie turns killer and wipes out an entire family and then some. (Yes, Rand family members are all named after dog breeds.) But he returns when Collie claims that he wasn’t responsible for one of those deaths. Lots of buzz and the start of a new series.

Slaughter, Karin. Criminal. Delacorte. Jul. 2012. 416p. ISBN 9780345528506. $27; eISBN 9780345528513. THRILLER
Georgia Bureau of Investigation agent Will Trent would like finally to make his life more than just work. But no such luck with a crime from 1975 suddenly making trouble today. Slaughter can of course be lauded as a No. 1 international best-selling author and ITW Silver Bullet Award winner and the guiding light behind the Save the Libraries campaign. Buy multiples.

Steel, Danielle. Friends Forever. Delacorte. Jul. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780385343213. $28; eISBN 9780345533562.
This starts out YA‚ two girls and three boys meet and become fast friends at a fancy private school‚ then goes into classic Steel territory as the friends split up for college and are eventually divided forever by tragedy. Comparisons are being made to another Steel biggie, Sisters.

Suarez, Daniel. Kill Decision. Dutton. Jul. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9780525952619. $26.95. THRILLER
What happens when the decision to kill in battle can suddenly be shifted from human to machine? America is under attack by drones programmed to seek out and execute targets, and Special Ops soldier Odin is trying to stop the carnage with the help of Linda McKinney, a scientist whose research on ant societies has been preempted by the unknown enemy to run the marauding drones. Techno-thriller author Suarez goes beyond the New York Times best-selling Daemon to get at some big issues.

Thayer, Nancy. Summer Breeze. Ballantine. Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780345528711. $26; eISBN 9780345533517. POP FICTION
Thayer abandons Nantucket for the Berkshires, where three young women spend a summer recalibrating their lives. Cottage-sitting Natalie is recovering from the breakup blues, Bella has returned home to care for her mom and the family business, and Morgan wants more out of life than mothering. Popular women’s fiction of the extended-best-sellers list type and a good beach, er, weekend-in-the-country read.

Walters, Minette. Innocent Victims: Two Novellas. Mysterious Pr: Grove Atlantic. Jul. 2012. 160p. ISBN 9780802126122. $23; eISBN 9780802194466. MYSTERY
In Chickenfeed, based on a notorious 1924 murder on an East Sussex chicken farm, Walters explores how Norman Thorne met Elsie, the girlfriend he reputedly killed. In The Tinder Box, everyone in town unites against the O’Riordan family when Patrick O’Riordan is accused of murder, though neighbor Siobhhan Lavenham proclaims his innocence. Then secrets emerge that make her start to wonder. Walters is a Gold Dagger and Edgar award winner (among other honors), these two works were both No. 1 best sellers in the UK, and you were wondering whether to purchase?


Warren, Dianne. Juliet in August. Amy Einhorn: Putnam. Jul. 2012. 336p. ISBN 9780399157998. $25.95. LITERARY
Juliet, Saskatchewan. It’s at the edge of the Little Snake sand hills, but it’s a small town like any other, with folks quietly getting by as they recognize their limitations or learn to love again. Small-town dwellers and those who enjoy reading about them should identify with everyone and everything, except maybe the camel named Antoinette, lost somewhere in the hills. Winner of Canada’s highly regarded Governor General’s Award and hence well worth watching.

Young, Tom. The Renegades. Putnam. Jul. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780399158469. $25.95. THRILLER
Young follows up The Mullah’s Storm and Silent Enemy (not to mention nearly 4000 hours with the Air National Guard in Iraq and elsewhere) with another thriller drawing on Middle East tensions. Afghan Air Force adviser Lt. Col. Michael Parson and his interpreter, Sgt. Maj. Sophia Gold, are on hand when American troops hurry to deliver aid after an earthquake devastates Afghanistan. A Taliban splinter group called the Black Crescent is making the effort truly hell. Interesting to see where Young’s writing will go as our objectives in the region shift.

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.