Barbara’s Picks, Nov. 2013, Pt. 3: Fiction from Albom, Baldacci, Banks, Child/Preston, Griffith, Hammett, Lynch, Miles, & Smith

Albom, Mitch. The First Phone Call from Heaven. Harper: HarperCollins. Nov. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9780062294371. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062294395. lrg. prnt. CD: HarperAudio. POP FICTION
Phones are ringing off the hook in little Coldwater, MI, but the callers are all deceased, stirring emotions from joyous relief to uncertain fear as they report being happy in heaven. People worldwide are hailing a miracle, but Sully Harding is determined to show that it’s a hoax. Sully’s wife died while he was doing time for a crime he may not have committed, and he worries when his young son starts carrying around a cell phone, convinced that he will soon be hearing from his mom. With Albom the author of five consecutive No. 1 New York Times best sellers, including Tuesdays with Morrie, proclaimed the best-selling memoir of all time, the 1.5 million copy first printing is no surprise.

Baldacci, David. King and Maxwell. Grand Central. Nov. 2013. ISBN 9781455521319. $28; ebk. ISBN 9781455521227; lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455551453. CD: Hachette Audio. THRILLER
No plot details yet, but here’s what you need to know about this latest Sean King and Michelle Maxwell title from Baldacci. It’s the sixth book in a series whose previous titles have all hit the top spot on the New York Times best sellers list; TNT has just ordered a ten-episode television series based on King and Maxwell’s exploits, with Jon Tenney and Rebecca Romijn slated for the leads; and there’s a 700,000-copy first printing.

Banks, Russell. A Permanent Member of the Family. Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2013. 300p. ISBN 9780061857652. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062096746. Downloadable: HarperAudio. SHORT STORIES
From The Sweet Hereafter to Lost Memory of Skin, Banks writes morally wrenching tales that make us think. Here we get to think many times over, as this is a collection of 12 stories featuring troubled characters in a troubled nation, all yearning for connection. Look for a six-city tour to Boston, Miami, New York City, Nashville, Raleigh, and Washington, DC.

Child, Lincoln & Douglas Preston. White Fire. Grand Central. Nov. 2013. 384p. ISBN 9781455525836. $27; ebk. ISBN 9781455525850; lib. ebk. ISBN 9781455551484. CD: Hachette Audio. THRILLER
Pendergast thrillers have done very nicely, thank you (2012’s Two Graves reached No. 1 on the New York Times ebook best sellers list and No. 8 on the hardcover list), but this one should get special attention because of intriguing literary allusions. In contemporary times, Corrie Swanson is examining the remains of several miners killed in a series of grizzly bear attacks in 1876 Roaring Fork, CO, when she discovers something shocking. She’s immediately silenced by the town’s leaders, who are mindful of Roaring Fork’s reputation as a high-end resort. FBI Special Agent Pendergast arrives to investigate just as arson breaks out, and a meeting between Arthur Conan Doyle and Oscar Wilde figures in the backstory. In fact, key to the plot is the reputed discovery of a new Sherlock Holmes story, actually written by Child and Preston and approved by Doyle’s estate.

Griffith, Nicola. Hild. Farrar. Nov. 2013. 560p. ISBN 9780374280871. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780374711016. HISTORICAL/LITERARY
Since Griffith has won the Tiptree, Nebula, and World Fantasy awards, the Premio Italia, and the Lambda Literary Award six times, you’re well advised to grab this fictionalized portrait of a girl name Hild who grew up in seventh-century Britain and became St. Hilda’s of Whitby. Griffith gives us a determined and uncannily perceptive Hild who seems capable of predicting the future (or at least of human behavior), a trait that puts her in the life-and-death position of being made the king’s seer. The writing itself is uncannily perceptive, with none of the flowery excess of some historical fiction writing, though the detailed narrative runs close to 600 pages. I thought of Hillary Mantel’s Wolf Hall even before I noted the comparison in the promotion. With a reading group guide.

Hammett, Dashiell. The Hunter and Other Stories. Nov. 2013. Mysterious: Grove/Atlantic. Nov. 2013. 256p. ed. by Julie M. Rivett & Richard Layman. ISBN 9780802121585. $25. SHORT STORIES
Edited by Rivett, Hammett’s granddaughter and a noted scholar on the master of hardboiled crime fiction, and Hammett biographer Layman, this book should get some attention. Among its entries are new stories found in Hammett’s archives, some rarely published pieces, and screen treatments that had vanished into various film-industry files. Here, for instance, you’ll find “The Kiss-Off,” which served as the basis for the Sylvia Sydney–Gary Cooper vehicle City Streets. There’s lots of editorial contextualizing, which should delight both fans and newbies.

Lynch, Paul. Red Sky in Morning. Little, Brown. Nov. 2013. 288p. ISBN 9780316230254. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780316230247; lib. ISBN 9780316250344. HISTORICAL/LITERARY
“Night sky was black and then there was blood, morning crack of light on the edge of the earth.” That’s the opening line of Lynch’s debut novel, just another substantiation of the adage that the Irish can really, really write. If Dublin-based Lynch’s taut, absorbing, acerbically lyrical prose weren’t enough, there’s the intense and revelatory plot. Having killed a man in 1832 County Donegal whose father is an expert tracker now bent on vengeance, Coll Coyle goes on the run—all the way to the cholera-soaked work camps of the Philadelphia railroad. Lynch draws partly on actual events at a camp where recent evidence suggests that violence rather than illness led to the deaths of 57 Irish workers. Get it for all smart readers.

Miles, Jonathan. Want Not. Houghton Harcourt. Nov. 2013. 400p. ISBN 9780547352206. $26. LITERARY
Miles’s delicious debut, Dear American Airlines, was good enough to merit a front-page review in the New York Times Book Review and earned best-book plaudits from the Los Angeles Times and the Wall Street Journal. So the cognoscenti will be anticipating this second novel, a study of how we desire—and desire too much—in this you-deserve-everything world. He explores this theme through three storylines—about a freegan couple living off the grid in Manhattan, a fading linguist in midlife crisis, and a New Jersey debt-collection magnate remaking his life. Tellingly, the novel opens on a date we reserve for the unreserved celebration of our bounty: Thanksgiving. Another tough, funny story from Miles; with a 50,000-copy first printing.

Smith, Martin Cruz. Tatiana: An Arkady Renko Novel. S. & S. Nov. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781439140215. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781439153185. CD: S. & S. Audio. POP FICTION
Famed for Arkady Renko, the sharp, incorruptible, quietly compassionate police inspector who first appeared in Gorky Park, Smith has two Hammett Prizes and a Golden Dagger Award to his name. But this book is billed as something more than mystery, with Arkady’s latest case reflecting troubles in the new Russia. After investigative reporter Tatiana Petrovna dies in a fall from the sixth floor of a Moscow apartment building, Arkady listens to tapes made by Tatiana that detail the cover-up of terrible crimes. His investigation leads him to Kaliningrad, geographically cut off from the rest of Russia, and a teenage chess hustler named Zhenya. Cultural study, character study, packet of thrills—this book should keep you busy.


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.