January 27, 2024
These five novels are all suspenseful in their own ways—not just because there are three gripping crime stories (including two debuts), but because of the immense talent of their authors. We also offer fiction with a spunky protagonist who harks back to some classic literature, and one written by a passionate Mexican American poet turned novelist who resides in Scotland.
Buyer, The Center for Fiction Bookstore
Swanna in Love
By Jennifer Belle
Published by Akashic
Belle’s latest pays homage to literature from our past: Proust, of course, but mainly Lolita with a hint of Eloise. Fourteen-year-old Swanna Swain and her younger brother have spent the summer at camp in Vermont. Her neglectful parents have a shaky marriage. At a family bowling night, she meets Dennis, a father of two whose wife is away. Sparks fly. Following this destined-to-fail affair is equal parts cringey, comic, painful, and poignant. Swanna’s innocence is masked by her bluster, her sexual awakening both realistic and unsavory. I want to meet Swanna now to see if she’s survived all the strikes against her. I think she’ll make it.
Hard by a Great Forest
By Leo Vardiashvili
Published by Riverhead
Set in London and post-Soviet Georgia this is a tremendously impressive debut about, as the author has said, “the hidden cost of displacement.” The plot revolves around a refugee family in London, and what happens when first the father, Irakli, then his son, Sandro, return to Tbilisi and go missing. Vardiashvili combines a story of fractured families with a tension-filled detective story steeped in elements of fantasy (lions and tigers and bears) and good old-fashioned adventure as son Saba goes in search of them both. The vivid portrait of a place left behind seems written with great love for its people: the “essence of Georgian generosity and spirit.”.
Everyone on This Train Is a Suspect
By Benjamin Stevenson
Published by Mariner
We first met Ernest Cunningham in Everyone in My Family Has Killed Someone. The character is now a successful writer who is invited to be part of the Australian Mystery Writer’s Festival on a train across the desert. “We should have been in Adelaide by now, but we’ve had to stop so the authorities can clean up the bodies.” With a wink to readers and letters to his publisher anxious for a sequel, Stevenson’s novel is like a contemporary version of Christie’s closed-room mysteries. A stand-up comedian, he has a lot of fun with his characters and plot which builds to a satisfying and entertaining denouement.
How We Named the Stars
By Andrés N. Ordorica
Published by Tin House
Ordorica, a poet, describes his work as “a journey towards the self.” He is a first-generation writer from Mexican immigrant parents living in Edinburgh. This sense of juggling cultures informs his lovely first novel about a student’s poignant coming of age (and coming out). Daniel arrives at college on a scholarship and falls in love with his roommate. A personal tragedy sends him back to Mexico where he wrestles with conflicting feelings about his family, love and loss, home, and identity. His narrator addresses both the reader and his roommate as Odorica manages to make all these powerful conflicting emotions ring true..
Where You End
By Abbott Kahler
Published by Henry Holt & Co.
The author writes under the name Karen Abbott for her narrative nonfiction which includes true crime. The name-change came ten years ago after a distressing article proclaimed her death. Her fiction debut, inspired by true events, is a creepy novel about 20-something identical twins. One has recently survived a car accident but is left with amnesia, making her dependent on her sister to fill in the blanks. Things take a dark turn as the reader learns of their traumatic childhood growing up in a deeply disturbing cult. Kahler’s thriller will keep you captivated as she ramps up the stakes and we are uncertain which twin to trust. A perfect winter page-turner.