Jussi Adler-Olsen, Daniel Handler, Jonathan Lethem, Laura Lippman, Thomas Keneally | Barbara’s Fiction Picks, Feb. 2015, Pt. 3

Adler-Olsen, Jussi. The Alphabet House. Dutton. Feb. 2015. 480p. ISBN 9780525954897. $27.95. CD: Penguin Audio. SUSPENSEadlerolsen
The author of the Department Q series (e.g., The Purity of Vengeance), Denmark’s top crime writer offers a surprising departure with this stand-alone. Shot down on a special photo-reconnaissance mission over World War II Germany, British pilots James Teasdale and Bryan Young evade escape by hopping a train carrying senior SS soldiers wounded on the eastern front. That lands them at the Alphabet House, a mental hospital where German doctors administer shock treatments and experimental drugs. They feign insanity to survive and soon realize that others around them are doing the same, but to what  purpose?

Handler, Daniel. We Are Pirates. Bloomsbury USA. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781608196883. $27. LITERARY
As the Huffington Post says, “If it’s possible to be criminally underrated yet also be a millions-selling author, then Handler is it.” Sure, he’s world famous as Lemony Snicket, author of the deliciously dark “A Series of Unfortunate Events ” series for children. But even a Michael L. Printz Honor Book like Why We Broke Up puzzled some readers, and not everyone remembers that Handler’s last adult book, Adverbs (2006), won considerable praise for being both brilliantly experimental in form and emotionally arresting in content. In his latest adult novel, conscientious-to-a-fault 14-year-old Gwen follows her dreams, rounding up a motley crew and becoming a pirate who spreads terror on San Francisco Bay—even as her father, who always thought he wearepirateswanted to ditch conventionality, endeavors to bring her home. Will this book help Handler escape being underrated? Hey, Neil Gaiman says it’s “the strangest, most brilliant offering yet from the mind behind Lemony Snicket,” and I don’t often quote blurbs.

Keneally, Thomas. Shame and the Captives. Atria. Feb. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781476734644. $26. LITERARY/HISTORICAL
As evidenced by work from the Booker Prize–winning Schindler’s List to last year’s The Daughters of Mars, Keneally writes affectingly about catastrophic world war, and he’s at it again in his latest title. Drawing on real-life events in New South Wales in 1944, the novel takes place in a country town with a prisoner of war camp nearby. Alice learns a few things about the world and about herself when she befriends an Italian POW, hoping it will somehow guarantee her husband’s good treatment at a camp in Europe, but it’s the Japanese POWs at the camp who instigate the book’s main action. Shamed by being captured alive, they plan a breakout to awful effect for everyone in the vicinity.

Lethem, Jonathan. Lucky Alan: And Other Stories. Doubleday. Feb. 2015. 176p. ISBN 9780385539814. $24.95. ebk. ISBN 9780385539821. CD/downloadable: Random Audio. SHORT STORIES
Since MacArthur Fellow Lethem is so good at conjuring scenes and depicting people that would seem, well, made up in other narratives, he should be great at delivering engrossing short fiction as well as long fiction like his National Book Critics Circle Award–winning Motherless Brooklyn. luckyalanThe title story of this collection of nine pieces nicely captures a legendary (but maybe washed up) theater director in a classic New York setting while effectively portraying an achingly fraught friendship and asking how we measure what people say. Expect more of the same.

Lippman, Laura. Hush: A Tess Monaghan Novel. Morrow. Feb. 2015. 384p. ISBN 9780062083425. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062083449. lrg. prnt. CD: Harper Audio. MYSTERY
After stand-alones that captured our attention in a different way, Lippman brings back popular, Baltimore-based private eye Tess Monagahan—but with a difference. Tess now has a toddler in tow and also a new partner, retired Baltimore P.D. homicide detective Sandy Sanchez, and they’ve taken on an unusual case. They’re assessing security issues for the haughty and highhanded Melisandre, who’s returning to Baltimore to reconcile with her daughters, having ceded custody of them following the death of her youngest daughter while she was apparently suffering from postpartum psychosis. Things get more complicated when Melisandre becomes a murder suspect. With a 150,000-copy first printing and a six-city tour that will include Baltimore, New York, and Washington, DC.



Barbara Hoffert About Barbara Hoffert

Barbara Hoffert (bhoffert@mediasourceinc.com, @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.


  1. stan ulrich says:

    As to Adler-Olsen’s “surprising departure with this stand-alone.” Not really. The original book in Danish was published in 1997. The first Deptartment Q title appeared 10 years later. So, perhaps seven years ago one might have said the Dept. Q novels are a “surprising departure”.