Barbara’s Picks, August 2012, Pt. 3: Black, Fossum, Semple, Bass, Mishra

Black, Benjamin. Vengeance. Holt. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780805094398. $26. CD: Macmillan Audio. THRILLER
Here’s John Banville in Quirke-y mode, as the consultant pathologist of Dublin’s Hospital of the Holy Family helps Detective Inspector Hackett investigate the bizarre death of hotshot businessman Victor Delahaye. Delahaye has taken his partner’s son out for a sail, then steadied the tiller as he shot himself in the chest. Quirke treads lightly while interviewing Delahaye’s reckless partner, gorgeous young wife, and distraught twin sons. And then a second bizarre death occurs. For literate thrills, Black can’t be beat.

Fossum, Karin. The Caller: An Inspector Sejer Mystery. Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2012. 256p. ISBN 9780547577524. $25; eISBN 9780547577623. MYSTERY
A young couple enjoying a midsummer’s meal check on their child, asleep in her stroller, and find her covered in blood. She’s not hurt, but later that night, as Inspector Sejer chats with the distraught parents, a shadowy figure leaves a postcard at the door saying Hell begins here. And one hell of a good reading from the high-profile Fossum, no doubt; the publisher is crowing that this is Fossum’s best since 2007’s The Indian Bride, a Los Angeles Times Book Prize winner. I wasn’t exactly aware that she’d leveled off, but I do know that readers will want this in spades.

Semple, Maria. Where’d You Go, Bernadette. Little, Brown. Aug. 2012. 304p. ISBN 9780316204279. $25.99. Downloadable: Hachette Audio. POP FICTION
To her Microsoft husband and the other private school moms in Seattle, Bernadette Fox is a holy terror; to her 15-year-old, Bee, she’s her beloved mom. But when Bee demands the trip to Antarctica she was promised for delivering a slam-dunk report card, the increasingly agoraphobic Bernadette disappears (a virtual assistant somewhere in India is running her errands), and Bee must use all her smarts to find her. Huge in-house excitement about this book, which has sold to nine countries and is described as Aimee Bender meets Tom Perrotta. A perceptively funny piece of hers I just read in the 10/24/11 New Yorker has me convinced.

Bass, Rick. The Black Rhinos of Namibia: Searching for Survivors in the African Desert. Houghton Harcourt. Aug. 2012. 288p. ISBN 9780547055213. $25; eISBN 9780547725826. NATURAL HISTORY
Actually grey-brown with white overtones that shimmer in the sun, the Black Rhinoceros is divided into four subspecies, all critically endangered and one (the Western Black Rhinoceros) declared extinct in November 2011. Here, renowned nature writer Bass visits the subspecies that lives primarily in Namibia, in Africa’s dry southwest. A nature writer of exceptional force and sensitivity, whether he’s purveying nonfiction (The Ninemile Wolves), fiction (Where the Sea Used To Be), or memoir (Why I Came West), Bass is just the man for the job; it will be instructive to see what happens when he leaves chilly Montana for Africa’s heat. For more, read Lawrence Anthony and Graham Spence’s The Last Rhinos: My Battle To Save One of the World’s Greatest Creatures, out from St. Martin’s in July.

Mishra, Pankaj. From the Ruins of Empire: The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia. Farrar. Aug. 2012. 320p. ISBN 9780374249595. $27; eISBN 9781429945981. HISTORY
A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books, the author of several smart studies crisscrossing East and West (e.g., Temptations of the West), and also a novelist‚ The Romantics won the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction‚ Mishra brings knowledge and writerly verve to this profile of the 1900s thinkers who have shaped contemporary China, India, and the Muslim world. They aren’t fire-breathing terrorists or anticolonialists but folks from India’s Tagore to China’s Sun Yatsen to the dying Ottoman Empire’s Jamal al-Din al-Afghani. The more I look at this book, the more interested I am; I’m betting that it will be much discussed.

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.