A young woman’s life is cut short just as she is freed to pursue her own happiness in Tana French’s latest Murder Squad entry, The Trespasser. Aislynn Murray was a good girl, who took care of her mother after her father walked out on the family. After her mother’s death, Aislynn flowered; she lost weight, bought fashionable clothes and went to the salon. Without a normal family life as a guide, she modelled her world around what magazines portrayed. Frequenting trendy clubs, she was soon juggling two boyfriends. Until one night, Aislynn ended up with fist to the jaw and her head bashed in.
Detective Antoinette Conway heads up the investigation into Aislynn’s murder, with Detective Steve Moran as her partner. She’s the only female detective in a male-dominated squad room, and spends a lot of her time looking over her shoulder. As the two newest members of the squad, they’re usually stuck with the open-and-shut domestic investigations. This time they may have caught a hot one that could launch their careers. What looks like a simple fight with a boyfriend isn’t so simple after all.
Tana French knows how to reach the reader viscerally. She explores her characters in their deepest darkest places and exposes their greatest anxieties. She is also adept at describing police procedure and investigation without gratuitous violence. French has won multiple awards for her work, including the Edgar Award for Best First Novel, In the Woods. She has combined great literary writing with the suspenseful plotting of a mystery with enormous success.
Ninth City Burning by J. Patrick Black is the first installment of a new series that takes an exciting and refreshing approach to the aliens attacking Earth story. Set 500 years in the future, the people of Earth have been in a grinding war with a mysterious alien species. With them came the mysterious force of "thelemity", which they brought to use as a weapon. Luckily, humans found that they could use thelemity too.
Black introduces us to a variety of characters that, through their multiple viewpoints, build up this multifaceted and detail-rich story. Jax is a 12-year-old "fontani", someone who can use the mysterious element of thelemity and plays an important part in the defense of the Ninth City. Torro is a factory worker in a settlement of the Ninth City who is chosen in a sudden draft for the war. Naomi and Rae are sisters that travel and live outside of the city who end up becoming much more important to the Ninth City than they could have known. Though these are just a few of the characters who lend their viewpoints, we learn the truths of the war and their part in it as each of them train and prepare for battle.
Black’s future Earth is wonderfully imagined with sharp attention to detail. Many things aren’t what you think they are initially, and the twists in the story add an air of mystery that I was not expecting. Lovers of science fiction and fantasy will find Ninth City Burning intriguing and intense in the best possible way. Be sure to keep an eye out for the rest of the series.
It isn’t unusual for readers to have special books, favorites kept close to our hearts which entertain, inspire and, sometimes, offer an escape. In Ann Hood’s newest novel, The Book That Matters Most, a mother and daughter both seek refuge in the world of the written word.
Ava Tucker’s life is falling apart. Her loving husband just left her for a ridiculous woman known as the yarn bomber, her father has dementia and her wild child daughter Maggie is incommunicado while supposedly in Italy on a college semester abroad program. A coveted spot in the neighborhood library’s book club opens up and even that goes sour; Ava tries to impress the group by blurting out that the author of her book choice has agreed to visit the club, when in reality she has no idea if the woman is even alive. Mother and daughter are both struggling; as Ava deals with the unraveling of life as she knows it, Maggie’s ditched her school program and instead is descending into heroin addiction while being “kept” by an older married man in Paris, who is both alienating her from her family and facilitating her drug abuse.
The book club’s theme is, actually, the book that matters most. Most members choose hoary classics like The Great Gatsby or Pride and Prejudice, but Ava’s choice, From Clare to Here, is an obscure title gifted to her as a child after a tragedy ripped her family apart and is a title she reread incessantly for comfort. As Hood alternates telling the stories of Ava and Maggie, she gradually reveals the secret of the real “book that matters most” and its pivotal role in the Tucker family. To explore more books about books, try Nina George’s The Little Paris Bookshop or The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler.
Magnus “Steps” Craig uses his secret tracking abilities to locate the missing in Spencer Kope’s debut novel Collecting the Dead. Steps is one member of an elite three-man Special Tracking Unit of the FBI. He has a kind of sixth sense; he can see the substance of a person, something he calls “shine” — a colorful glow which every person leaves behind. His ability is known to only three people: his father, the director of the FBI and his partner, Special Agent Jimmy Donovan.
When the remains of yet another murdered woman are discovered, Magnus recognizes the shine left by the perpetrator from a previous crime. He also discovers the murderer’s trademark at both scenes — the mark of a sad face. At the same time, a killer known as Leonardo, who Magnus has been tracking for several years, has resurfaced and is taunting him. While desperately digging for a clue that will lead him to Leonardo, the case of the Sad Face Killer intensifies. The team identifies 11 potential victims — all missing women who fit the same scenario. While Magnus draws on all of his exceptional skills, he struggles with the pressure and guilt of knowing he is the only one who can save the next victim before it’s too late.
Author Spencer Kope is a professional crime analyst and his background provides strong authenticity. Kope’s debut novel introduces a sympathetic hero in a unique storyline. Fans of Walt Longmire, Jack Reacher and Charlie Parker will find Collecting the Dead a deeply satisfying read.
Meet Sabrina Spellman. She’s the new girl at school, dealing with the typical problems of dating, peer pressure and trying to get a part in the school play. But now that she’s turning 16, she faces an even more important rite of passage — signing her name in the Devil’s book. Wait, what? Chilling Adventures of Sabrina by author Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and illustrator Robert Hack embraces historical depictions of witchcraft, goat sacrifices and all, in its depiction of the usually jolly witch from Archie Comics. So ’90s nostalgists beware: This Sabrina resembles Melissa Joan Hart about as much as Melissa Joan Hart resembles Black Phillip from the film The Witch.
This companion series to the similarly horrific Afterlife with Archie is just as satisfying but more subtle and psychological, with allusions to Shirley Jackson and Ray Bradbury in place of Sam Raimi and George Romero. But both series deserve to be read if for no other reason than they’re the only horror stories that you can read and witness the characters being traumatized or mutilated, and then go and can revisit with the original Archie and his gang getting ice cream and having a swell time as a chaser in the Archie Superstar series.
This collection also includes a reprint of the original Madam Satan series from the ’40s in which the title character seduces men and kills them with a kiss, while an angelic monk on a donkey attempts to thwart her from leading men away from the path of righteousness. It really is something. You’d think an old man on a donkey isn’t quite the hard sell that a supernaturally attractive bride of Satan is, but you’d be surprised.
If you tore through Netflix’s Stranger Things as quickly as I did and are craving more nostalgia-inducing science fiction, look no further than Paper Girls. Created by an all-star team including Brian K. Vaughan of Saga fame and Cliff Chiang, the artist behind Wonder Woman, Paper Girls is a coming-of-age story that reads like the twisted result of a partnership between John Hughes and John Carpenter.
Four preteen newspaper delivery girls trying to make their rounds early the morning after Halloween are met with hurdles in the form of costumed bullies, overbearing local police and mysterious masked figures with secrets aplenty. Those familiar with Vaughan’s work will recognize his signature oddball brand of science fiction here; the truly bizarre is interwoven with the ordinary in a way that brings out the best in both. The interactions between the paper girls and the surreal and strange characters they meet result in some of the snappiest dialogue I’ve ever read; this pre-teen gang genuinely feel like they fell right out of your favorite '80s movie and into this book.
Cliff Chiang reunites with colorist Matt Wilson here to create a truly dreamy nostalgic landscape. The almost flat pastel colors lend an ethereal air to the whole book; even the scenes that are grounded in reality have a certain otherworldliness to them that is well suited for the tone of the book.
Grab yourself a Crystal Pepsi, put on John Carpenter’s Lost Themes and prepare to get weird.