Fiction Previews, Jan. 2014, Pt. 4: 12 Crucial Titles, from Hot International Fiction (Drndic, Yu Hua) to Works by American Prize Winners (Greenway, Martin) to Upscale Thrillers (Billingham, Dolan)


Billingham, Mark. From the Dead. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780802122131. $25. THRILLER
A top-selling UK crime writer (and, surprisingly, a former stand-up comic who proved how funny he can still be at Grove Atlantic’s ALA dinner), Billingham is making a name for himself here—with the help of his publisher, which has signed up six more books from him and is obtaining his backlist for further promotion. In this ninth of 11 Tom Thorne titles, a woman jailed for arranging her husband’s gruesome murder by fire receives a photo of him, alive and well.

Condit, Sonja. Starter House. Morrow Paperbacks. Jan. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780062283054 pap. $14; ebk. ISBN 9780062283061. POP FICTION
Creepy if not entirely unexpected doings here as pregnant Lacey Miszlak excitedly moves with her husband into the house of their dreams, then finds herself in a waking nightmare as she senses a malevolent presence in the halls and must investigate an enduring mystery. What recommends this paperback original especially is the eye-opening 75,000-copy first printing (it’s loved!), and kudos to Condit as the principal bassoonist of the Hendersonville Symphony Orchestra and Greater Anderson Musical Arts Consortium.

Dolan, Harry. Killer Ending. Amy Einhorn Bks: Putnam. Jan. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780399157967. $26.95. THRILLER
Gotta love a crime fiction guy who majored in philosophy and studied creative writing with the novelist Frederick Busch. And Stephen King called his debut, Bad Things Happen, “a great fucking book.” Here’s a prequel to Bad Things Happen that explains why protagonist David Loogan tried to find anonymity as the editor of a mystery magazine. It all started with a beautiful young law student with a nasty bruise on her face who happens to end up dead.

Drndic, Dasa. Trieste. Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780547725147. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780547725819. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
Not everyone knows that Hitler’s Germany established one concentration camp in Italy, in a town near Trieste. Noteworthy Croatian novelist/critic Drndic, a former Fulbright scholar who teaches English at the University of Rijeka, shows us the awful truth of the situation by artfully blending fact and fiction, poetry, photographs, and rosters of the dead. As the now elderly Haya Tedeschi prepares to meet the son fathered 62 years previously by an SS officer and then swept away from her as part of the infamous Lebensborn project, she reflects on her Catholicized Jewish family’s experiences during the war and bears witness to the atrocities associated with the Trieste camp. Drndic’s book doesn’t have a huge first printing, but it will be important both for its historical perspective and for its distinctive, Sebald-like delivery.

Gemmell, Nikki. I Take You. Harper Perennial: HarperCollins. Jan. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780062273413. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062273420. POP FICTION
Gemmell made her name worldwide with The Bride Stripped Bare, a forcefully sensuous tale originally published anonymously. Following was With My Body, and now we have the wrap-up to her “Brides” trilogy, featuring a Chanel-clad banker’s wife who finds herself submitting to her husband’s dark and increasingly suffocating desires. We know who loves this stuff.

Greenway, Alice. The Bird Skinner. Atlantic Monthly. Jan. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780802121042. $24. LITERARY
Greenway debuted splendidly with 2005’s White Ghost Girls, a Discover Great New Writers pick and winner of the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction. Back at last, she extends her reach with the story of Jim Carroway, once a celebrated ornithologist at New York’s Museum of Natural History, whose solitary life on a Maine island is interrupted by the charming daughter of a native of the Solomon Islands he had befriended while working for naval intelligence during World War II. Bonus points: bird lore, historical figures like Admiral Halsey, and a search for the real Treasure Island.

Katzenbach, John. RED 1-2-3. Mysterious Pr: Grove Atlantic. Jan. 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780802122056. $27. THRILLER
Former crime reporter Katzenbach evidently knows how to deliver a picturesque scare; three of his novels have been made into films, including Hart’s War (with Bruce Willis) and Just Cause (with Sean Connery). His new thriller is likewise colorful; three women targeted by a killer called the Wolf have nothing in common except their vibrant red hair. Initially strangers, they bond in an effort to snare their predator.

Kellerman, Jonathan, Ande Parks (scripter), & Michael Gaydos (illus.). The Web. Ballantine. Jan. 2014. 192p. ISBN 9780345541499. $24. GRAPHIC NOVEL
Last year, scripter Parks, who’s responsible for the highly regarded graphic novels Union Station and Capote in Kansas, joined with Marvel and DC illustrator Gaydos to put Kellerman’s Silent Partner into graphic format. Here they work together again to give us a rendering of The Web, the 1996 Kellerman novel that sends Alex Delaware on his tenth outing—to a tropical island where storm clouds are decidedly brewing.

Mander, Marina. The First True Lie. Hogarth: Crown. Jan. 2014. 144p. ISBN 9780770436858. pap. $13; ebk. ISBN 9780770436865. LITERARY
Italian novelist Mander makes her U.S. debut with a novel that’s already been sold to six countries. Her hero is young Luca, living with a wastrel mother who occasionally “tries out a new father” for Luca and one day simply doesn’t wake up. Luca, mightily resisting the idea of being an orphan, decides to pretend that nothing is amiss, never mind the stench of decomposition pervading his apartment. With his cat, Blue, as confidante, he manages to become his own (young) man. Lots of early promotion and book club outreach, so pay attention.

Marcus, Ben. Leaving the Sea. Knopf. Jan. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9780307379382. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385350433. SHORT STORIES
Pushcart and Whiting honoree Marcus is a real author’s author, with books to his name like the disturbingly imaginative Notable American Women and The Flame Alphabet, much loved by many critics (including me) but not as successful with general readers. Cognoscenti will want to know that he’s back with a new story collection examining painful moments in marriage and child rearing, as when a divorced father tries to care for his sick infant son without getting fired from his job.

Martin, Valerie. The Ghost of the Mary Celeste. Nan A. Talese: Doubleday. Jan. 2014. ISBN 9780385533508. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385533515. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
From a singular historical event—the discovery in 1872 of the American merchant vessel Mary Celeste drifting off the coast of Spain, its cargo intact and its crew forever vanished—Martin weaves a tale about history, religion, and literature in the late 19th century. The book opens with a young Arthur Conan Doyle sailing to Africa when he learns of the Mary Celeste and writes an outré story about its fate. The story brings to a boil the feud between Philadelphia spiritualist medium Violet Petra and her nemesis, journalist Phoebe Grant, even as Orange Prize winner Martin uses diaries and letters to depict the devastating sense of loss felt by the ship captain’s family.

Yu Hua. Boy in the Twilight: Stories of the Hidden China. Pantheon. Jan. 2014. ISBN 9780307379368. $24; ebk. ISBN 9780307908643. SHORT STORIES
Yu is big news worldwide, with James Joyce, Prix Courrier International, and Premio Grinzane Cavour trophies sitting on his shelf and reportedly 14 million followers tracking his blog. Now he’s breaking out here, with a profile in the New York Review of Books and pieces on the op-ed pages of the New York Times. Literate readers, particularly those who enjoyed his recent China in Ten Words, will therefore want to investigate his latest slice of Chinese life, which includes a story confirmed for first serial in The New Yorker. Among his portraits: a hardworking couple learn that their college-age son uses their money for taxis.


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.