Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, January 25, 2013

Week ending January 25, 2013

Guthrie, Woody. House of Earth. Infinitum Nihil: HarperCollins. Feb. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780062248398. $25.99. F
Guthrie (1912–67), America’s iconic folksinger, completed a novel in 1947 that languished on a Hollywood shelf for decades, now published for the first time. Edited and introduced by its editors, historian Douglas Brinkley and actor Johnny Depp, this is a paean to Dustbowl farmers and the concept of adobe-brick house building. Incantatory in style, the novel is filled with dialog between husband and wife Tike and Ella May Hamlin as they struggle to make a go of tenant farming in the Texas Panhandle. Tike dreams of buying some acreage and building an adobe house. The wooden shack they live in is under constant invasion from dust and termites. Though the couple lack for money, their love is strong, and their lovemaking frequent, depicted with earthy gusto. When Ella May gets pregnant, their need to create a better life becomes paramount.
Verdict Almost more a prose poem than a novel, this is an impassioned tirade against agribusiness and capitalism. Much like Guthrie’s songs, the novel presents many concerns of the Everyman. Although some may see this as a literary artifact, readers who appreciate John Steinbeck and Erskine Caldwell, as well as fans of Guthrie’s music, will want to reach for this folksy novel. [This is the inaugural title in Depp’s Infinitum Nihil imprint.—Ed.]—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Houston, TX

Hobbs, Roger. Ghostman. Knopf. Feb. 2013. 336p. ISBN 9780307959966. $24.95. F
In the criminal underworld, there are many specialists needed when pulling a heist. Perhaps the most important is the ghostman, the person responsible for helping perpetrators disappear when the task is done. Unfortunately for the protagonist of this debut thriller, sometimes it’s impossible to disappear completely. Several years removed from botching a job in Kuala Lumpur, “Jack” (as he sometimes allows himself to be called) finds himself pressed into service cleaning up a casino robbery in Atlantic City. In less than 48 hours, he has to make the robbery vanish while staying one step ahead of the FBI and a rival crime boss.
Verdict The novel is frenetic yet methodical, a police procedural told from the wrong side of the law. With its unpredictable plot and an antihero readers will take a perverse joy in cheering for, this book will attract fans of Lee Child, George Pelecanos, or classic hard-boiled fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 8/9/12.]—Peter Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA

starred review starJordan, Robert & Brandon Sanderson. A Memory of Light. Tor. (Wheel of Time, Vol. 14). Jan. 2013. 909p. ISBN 9780765325952. $34.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429997171. FANTASY
Since the publication of The Eye of the World in 1990, fans have eagerly anticipated how the final battle of Jordan’s groundbreaking “Wheel of Time” epic fantasy series ends. Over the years, readers have come to know Rand, Mat, Perrin, Egwene, Nynaeve, and many other characters, vicariously joining in their journey to save the world from the Dark One. At last comes the long-anticipated 14th and concluding volume, and it is definitely worth the wait. Sanderson (“Mistborn” trilogy; The Alloy of Law), who was given the task of completing the series when Jordan died in 2007, has done a wonderful job of tying together all the loose ends, sometimes in very surprising ways. Of course, the epilog is the almost unaltered scene (or series of scenes) written and kept secret by Jordan decades ago.
Verdict Anyone who has read the first “Wheel” books will want to read this one as well. In fact, anyone who likes epic fantasy will enjoy it. However, “The Wheel of Time” is such a complex series that one must read the titles in order to avoid confusion at all of the twists and turns. [See Prepub Alert, 7/30/12.]—William Baer, Georgia Inst. of Technology Lib., Atlanta

starred review starLentricchia, Frank. The Accidental Pallbearer: An Eliot Conte Mystery. Melville House. (International Crime). Jan. 2013. 208p. ISBN 9781612191713. pap. $14.95; ebk. 9781612191720. MYS
This series debut by the author of The Book of Ruth and The Italian Actress is a high-art frenetic novel laced with black humor, one-liners, puns, guns, Mafia assassinations, crooked police, and the closely linked issues of loyalty and betrayal. The dissolute antihero Eliot Conte was once an academic until he dangled UCLA’s provost out a window. Most professors are similarly inclined but show self-control. Returning home to bleak Utica, NY, he has become an equally unorthodox PI. When Eliot’s highly unlikely blood brother, Antonio Robinson, Utica’s corrupt black chief of police, enlists him to neutralize his deputy chief, Eliot’s investigation uncovers links to the 15-year-old case of a mob assassination carried out by a last-minute replacement pallbearer (anything but accidental!). Eliot is already running a personal probe of a train passenger he witnessed assaulting the passenger’s own child. The two cases are linked, of course, in true noir fashion. Conte is a cad, but his actions are guided by a moral compass, no matter how skewed.
Verdict The terrific writing, clever plots, bleak humor, and colorful characters recommend this to fans of gritty noir crime fiction.—Seamus Scanlon, Ctr. for Worker Education, CUNY

starred review starSteinberg, Janice. The Tin Horse. Random. Feb. 2013. 352p. ISBN 9780679643746. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780345540287. F
While working with an archivist to prepare her papers for donation, elderly Elaine Greenstein discovers a new clue in the mystery of the disappearance of her twin sister, Barbara, when they were 18. This discovery leads Elaine down a path of long-ago memories about her childhood in Boyle Heights, CA, as well as a modern-day hunt for Barbara. Via flashback, the reader is deposited in the midst of the Jewish community in the early 1900s when young Elaine struggles to define herself outside of the shadow cast by her vivacious, popular twin, while competing with her for the heart of Danny, a zealous neighbor. Steinberg, a mystery writer (Death in a City of Mystics), has crafted a novel rich in faith, betrayal, and secrecy that explores the numerous ways people are shaped and haunted by their past.
Verdict A sweeping family saga reminiscent of the writing of Pat Conroy, where family secrets and flashbacks combine to create an engrossing tale of growth and loss. Highly recommended for fans of family drama and historical fiction. [See Prepub Alert, 9/10/12.]—Katie Lawrence, Chicago

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"