Spencer Quinn (Atria Books)
In 2009, around the age of 60, the superb suspense novelist Peter Abrahams took a new direction. Writing as Spencer Quinn, he began a series of humorous mysteries about an appealing dog, Chet (the narrator), and a private detective, Bernie, working together. The series has flourished, and now comes another surprise: a wrenching new novel (set in the US and Afghanistan) about a woman you won’t soon forget (and a dog who comes to her aid). A war story, a story of “recovery” without the schmaltz, The Right Side illuminates our present moment in a way that only the best fiction can.
Rosemary Ashton (Yale University Press)
The slice of time examined in this chronicle—subtitled “Dickens, Darwin, Disraeli, and the Great Stink of 1858”—gives us a vivid sense of the mysterious intertwining of personality and circumstance, choice and coincidence, that is the essence of history. “Paths meet, cross, and converge, and patterns emerge,” as the distinguished historian Rosemary Ashton promises early on in her account of one of the hottest (and foulest-smelling) London summers on record. She delivers the goods (though her reverential treatment of Darwin begins to grate).
Ryan Schnurr (Belt)
The famous Thames is at the heart of Rosemary Ashton’s One Hot Summer(see above); a much lesser-known river runs through Ryan Schnurr’sIn the Watershed. In 2016, Schnurr followed the Maumee River from its headwaters to its mouth—from Fort Wayne, Indiana (where he grew up) to Toledo, Ohio, opening into Lake Erie. Recounting his journey and what he saw in in the present, Schnurr also weaves in the deep history of the river and its surrounding region, including the “disaster” that is Lake Erie. Many books are bloated. Schnurr’s is just right: short but not superficial, poignant but animated by a stubborn hope. Bravo to Belt Publishing for drawing attention to the Rust Belt and the Midwest.
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