Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, July 20, 2012

Week ending July 20, 2012

Ampuero, Robert. The Neruda Case. Riverhead: Penguin Group (USA). Jul. 2012. c.352p. tr. from Spanish by Carolina de Robertis. ISBN 9781594487439. $26.95. F
Chilean writer Ampuero’s (La Otra Mujer) first novel to be translated into English is the sixth featuring sleuth Cayetano Brulé and flashes back to Brulé’s first case as a PI in the early 1970s. Meeting Chilean poet Pablo Neruda at a cocktail party, the detective is hired by the Nobel laureate, ill with terminal cancer, to find someone from his past. Brulé travels among South America, Cuba, and Europe to unravel the truth of Neruda’s secret, returning to Chile as its Marxist president is about to be overthrown in a military coup. This is an ornate translation yet remains true to form of the original writing. Fans of Arturo Pérez-Reverte will enjoy Ampuero’s attention to detail and the political landscape.
Readers who like strong historical, political, and literary themes in their crime fiction will rejoice in discovering Ampuero. But this novel may be best appreciated by those familiar with reading the author in the original Spanish. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/12; previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s Crime Travels, LJ 4/15/12.]—Frances Thorsen, Chronicles of Crime, Victoria, BC

starred review starKramer, Julie. Shunning Sarah. Emily Bestler: Atria. Aug. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9781451664638. $23.99. F
TV reporter Riley Spartz travels 100 miles to cover the story of a young boy rescued from a sinkhole on a Minnesota farm, but her heartwarming story is quickly superseded by news of an unidentified corpse found during the rescue. After the body is linked to the Amish community, Riley investigates, but her quest to find the killer is almost derailed as she combats downsizing and harassment from an unscrupulous news director, police corruption, and strong resistance from the very private Amish.
Kramer, a former journalist and TV news producer, has outdone herself. Her fourth Riley Spartz thriller (after Silencing Sam) has the perfect mix of suspense, excitement, romance, and surprises to keep the discriminating crime fiction reader captivated. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12; for more Amish suspense, see also Linda Castillo’s Gone Missing.‚ Ed.]—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

Krusoe, Jim. Parsifal. Tin House. 2012. 264p. ISBN 9781935639343. pap. $15.95. F
Krusoe’s latest (after Toward You) is a challenge to read but has hidden rewards. Jumping backward and forward in time, hopping from phrase to isolated sentence to paragraph to illustration, it is the story of a quest. The archetypical Parsifal is, of course, searching for a cup, his grail, lost in the wilderness. Along the way we learn that Parsifal has lived part of his life in a tree with a possibly blind mother and a father who appeared from time to time with sacks of grain. He inhabits a dangerous world where objects as large as a car and as small as paperclips are haphazardly falling from the sky. In addition, Parsifal loves sex with female librarians and has a problem with blind people besieging his residence. Also figuring large is how our hapless hero got put in jail for and starting a fire at a preschool.
Verdict This convoluted exercise in storytelling has at its heart an examination of the mental construction of self and the blind spots we all have; recommended for the most intrepid readers.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA

Larson, Nathan. The Nervous System. Akashic. Jul. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781617750793. pap. $15.95. F
Set in a near-future New York City decimated by terrorist attacks, Larson’s latest brings back the nameless private investigator of The Dewey Decimal System. Known as Dewey Decimal for his obsessive attempt to reorganize the shattered New York Public Library, he is a semiruined man in a ruined city, an ex-marine and subject of horrific experiments by intelligence agencies, body and brain implanted with all manner of hardware. Here, he discovers information about the brutal murder of a Korean escort and her young son that seems to implicate the powerful Senator Howard. Decimal will soon find himself entangled with the Korean mob, a Blackwater-like private army, and the city’s remaining powerbrokers‚ Senator Howard himself and Decimal’s old military commander, Nic Deluccia‚ all of whom wish to see him dead.
Marred only by the occasional weakly drawn character (the senator’s wife is a cartoon version of a certain former vice presidential candidate), this is a taut, action movie‚ violent mystery that will appeal to fans of Larson’s earlier novel as well as those who like dystopian literature generally.—Lawrence Rungren, Merrimack Valley Lib. Consortium, North Andover, MA

Locke, Kate. God Save the Queen. Orbit: Hachette. (Immortal Empire, Bk. 1). Jul. 2012. c.368p. ISBN 9780316196123. $16.99. FANTASY
Vampires and werewolves abound in this debut urban fantasy series by the pseudonymous Locke (Kate Cross, who also writes as Kathryn Smith). It’s 2012, and Queen Victoria is a vampire celebrating her 175th year of rule over the British Empire, which includes Scotland and its prince, an alpha werewolf, and the Prince of the Plague, the leader of ferocious, terrifying goblins who inhabit the abandoned London underground. Xandra Vardan, a halfie (born of a human mother courtesan and a vampire aristocrat) is a member of the elite Royal Guard who protect the royal family. When her neurotic half-sister Dede commits suicide, Xandra secretly investigates her death despite receiving verbal and physical threats. As she gets closer to solving this mystery, Xandra begins to exhibit abilities that surprise both her opponents and herself.
Readers will be intrigued by the author’s original take on the origins of vampires, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures and their interactions with normal humans. Rapid-paced action and an original interpretation of goblins (they are not J.K. Rowling’s cranky, clever, gold-centric goblins) add much to differentiate Locke’s fantasy from the rest of the pack. Fans of urban fantasy who appreciate the supernatural with a side of romanticism will enjoy this.—Deb West, Gannon Univ. Lib, Erie, PA

McKay, Ami. The Virgin Cure. Harper: HarperCollins. Jul. 2012. c.336p. ISBN 9780061140327. $25.99. F
Moth is 12 years old when her mother, a fake fortune-teller living in squalor in 1870s New York, sells her into service. McKay (The Birth House) follows Moth from wretched childhood poverty to suffering the abuses of an unstable mistress and finally to the door of a high-end brothel specializing in virgins. After the life Moth has led, the warm bed and full belly of a prostitute is highly appealing. The brothel’s female physician, Dr. Sadie, wants a better life for the young girl, but the debt to obtain Moth’s freedom might be too high to pay.
This novel starts out strong, but the pace slackens toward the middle as Moth’s struggle to survive becomes a slightly duller will she/won’t she waiting game. Still, Moth’s voice is compelling, and the subject matter will fascinate readers. Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction like Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White and Arthur Golden’s Memoirs of a Geisha.—Therese Oneill, Monmouth, OR

Morais, Richard C. Buddhaland Brooklyn. Scribner. Jul. 2012. c.256p. ISBN 9781451669220. $25. F
Morais follows up his first novel (Hundred-Foot Journey) with the story of a mild-mannered Japanese Buddhist priest who finds himself in America. Seido Oda narrates his own story, starting with his being sent away from home at age 11 to join the local temple as an acolyte in training. Just a few weeks before he enters the priesthood, his entire family is lost to a fire. Thirty years later, his life is disrupted again when he is unexpectedly reassigned to Brooklyn, NY, to oversee the construction of the sect’s first American temple. What follows is a charming and touching tale of discovery. Oda not only experiences the obvious cultural differences but also launches a journey to discovering a deeper sense of himself, his faith, and his purpose.
In a story whose pacing matches the reserved personality of its protagonist, Morais draws readers in by illustrating the many façades we put up with people we meet. A reflective story that is certain to be appreciated by those who enjoy reading about the human condition.—Shirley N. Quan, Orange Cty. P.L., Santa Ana, CA

Owen, Howard. Oregon Hill. Permanent. Jul. 2012. c.240p. ISBN 9781579622084. $28. M
All things considered, Willie Black is lucky. He’s a mixed-race man from the white working-class neighborhood of Oregon Hill in Richmond, and at 49‚ with three divorces behind him, a low toleration for authority, and an inability to kick alcohol and nicotine habits‚ he’s hanging onto his job on the night police beat of his Richmond daily at a time when newspapers are cutting back. When the decapitated body of a college coed is found (her head having been mailed to her father), police suspect her boyfriend, with whom she argued in a bar the night she disappeared. But Willie, after talking to the boyfriend (who’s being defended by Willie’s third ex) and his mother, has his doubts and blogs to that effect, raising the ire of his editor and publisher, as he doggedly pursues the story.
Owen’s (Rock of Ages; The Reckoning) cast of full-bodied, flawed, and often quirky characters add depth and texture to this fast-moving crime story that’s fueled by revenge and heads for a violent end. Expanded from Owen’s short story The Thirteenth Floor, which was anthologized in Richmond Noir, this is a good bet for fans of hard-boiled mysteries.—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

Straub, Peter. The Buffalo Hunter. Cemetery Dance. Jul. 2012. c.156p. ISBN 9781587672361. $19.99. F
A realistic novel with a touch of the fantastical, this latest book by Straub (In the Night Room) centers on thirtysomething Bobby Bunting, a Manhattan data-entry clerk with a taste for pulp fiction and vodka and an odd fetish for baby bottles. A transplant from small-town Michigan, Bunting creates a rich, imaginative life for the benefit of his parents in which he works an executive job and jet-sets with a number of accomplished and provocative women. But in reality, Bunting rarely leaves home and has not had a date in 20 years. The boundaries between fiction and reality begin to destabilize when the novels that Bunting reads begin to take on aspects of the real, transporting him to worlds that seem more concrete than the everyday world he inhabits.
A short but interesting read, this work suffers from an all-too-sudden ending but captivates the reader through the use of ordinary characters who are made remarkable by a bizarre host of neuroses. It will appeal to followers of imaginative and speculative fiction.—Chris Pusateri, Jefferson Cty. P.L., Lakewood, CO

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"