Fabulous Fiction Firsts #482

Winner of the 2010 Oe Prize, Japan's prestigious literary award, established to honor Kenzaburō Ōe; and a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize - The Thief is the first novel by Fuminori Nakamura (in audio format) to be translated into English.

The nameless titular character is a deft Tokyo pickpocket, a loner who moves anonymously at the fringe of society. Through his mentor, he was drafted into an armed robbery by Kizaki, a vicious gangster. A simple job turned deadly when he learned that the old man they robbed was a prominent politician, and that he was brutally killed after the robbery. Meanwhile, his last tenuous connection to society is a desperate young boy forced into clumsy shoplifting by his addicted, prostitute mother. With nowhere left to run, the thief must barter his life with a labyrinthine test of his thieving prowess.

"Mystery/crime aficionados with exacting literary standards, as well as fans of Miyuki Miyabe; Natsuo Kirino; and Keigo Higashino" will find much to like here.

Watch for the October release of Nakamura's next novel to reach these shores - Last Winter We Parted is a "creepy if elegantly-crafted" standalone. The narrator, a nameless writer, gets assigned to pen an exposé of Yudai Kiharazaka, a 35-year-old Tokyo art photographer awaiting execution for burning two models to death.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #480

The Frozen Dead * * by Bernard Minier is the U.S. release of an international best-seller set in the French Pyrenees. Saint-Martin-de-Comminges is a remote small town, reached only by cable car, where winters are harsh and the wind relentless. On a brisk snowy morning, workers arriving for seasonal service of the hydroelectric power station discover a horrific scene - a headless, flayed body of a horse is suspended from the edge of a frozen cliff.

The charismatic, Latin-quoting Commandant Martin Servaz of nearby Toulouse is called on to investigate this priority case since the Thoroughbred belongs to non-other than Eric Lombard, CEO of a multinational company and member of a very influential family with strong political ties to the area.

Just a few miles away on that same day, Diane Berg a young psychiatrist from Geneva starts her first job at the Wargnier Institute, a high-security asylum for the criminally insane. Uneasy with the unorthodox methods used on the patients/prisoners and some alarming behavior among the staff, Dr. Berg teams up with Commandant Servaz when DNA from one of the most notorious inmates (think Hannibal Lecter) of the asylum is found on the horse carcass.

"Complex, fast-paced, and completely absorbing. "

"The pervasiveness of evil in this tense and disturbing novel makes for very compelling reading, with the suspense bordering on horror. It should appeal to those who enjoyed Pierre Lemaitre's Alex (2013) as well as the edgier Scandinavian thrillers."

* * = starred review

South African Crime (and Fabulous Fiction Firsts #479)

The Sunday Times Fiction winner Andrew Brown introduces tormented Detective Inspector Eberard Februarie, in Coldsleep Lullaby * *, an intelligent and compelling police procedural set in Stellenbosch, in the heart of South Africa's wine region. Just released in the U.S., this series opener involves the murder of a young woman in the underworld of an old university town fraught with prejudice and sexual hedonism.

Melanie Du Preez, daughter of a prominent law professor is found floating in a river. DI Eberard Februarie, recently reinstated after an emotional meltdown is called to investigate. Eberard discovers a scrapbook of lullabies that Melanie had collected over the years, which could hold a clue to unlock the case. In alternating chapters, the readers learn of the Dutch East India Company's colonization of the region in the 17th century that ultimately plays a role in the current murder. Two other victims will die in rapid succession before the volatile case is solved.

"With its lush, detailed descriptions, Brown's debut successfully captures both the beautiful landscapes and the violent textures of South Africa's racially charged history."

Cobra (an October release) by Deon Meyer - the "King of South African crime", again probes the social and racial complexities of post-apartheid South Africa. The bodies of three people are found at an exclusive guest house in the beautiful Franschhoek wine valley. Two of them were professional bodyguards, but the renowned mathematician David Adair they were protecting is nowhere to be found. Detective Benny Griessel of Cape Town's elite Hawks found spent shell cases at the crime scene bearing a chilling engraving: the flaring head of a spitting cobra, trademark of an international assassin team.

Meanwhile, a small-time pickpocket Tyrone Kleinbooi who steals to put his sister through med school, inadvertently winds up as the Cobra next target. With the help of his colleagues, Detective Benny Griessel rushes to untangle a case that only grows more complex. From Cape Town's famous waterfront to a deadly showdown on a suburban train, Cobra hurtles towards a shocking finale and someone may not make it out alive.

Needing no introduction is the latest in the award-winning series by Malla Nunn Present Darkness *. With Christmas approaching, Detective Sergeant of the Johannesburg major crimes squad, Emmanuel Cooper's much anticipated vacation plan evaporates when a white couple has been assaulted and left for dead in their bedroom. A witness identifies the attacker as Aaron Shabalala, the youngest son of Zulu Detective Constable Samuel Shabalala -- Cooper's best friend and a man to whom he owes his life.

Readers might also explore the David Bengu series by Michael Stanley; the Jacob Tshabalala series by Richard Kunzmann; and the Heat of the Sun mini television series.

* * = 2 starred reviews
* = starred review

Unique New Adult Historical Fiction: The Miniaturist

Jessie Burton’s brand new The Miniaturist is a fascinating and unusual tale set in Amsterdam in the late 17th century. The story opens with the arrival in the city of Nella Oortman , who is prepared to begin her new life as the wife of wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt. She feels unwelcome in her new home; despite its beauty, Johannes is distant and she knows no one else in the city. Nella is fascinated, however, by the wedding gift that Johannes gives her: a miniature replica of their home that Nella may furnish as she chooses. When Nella hires a renowned miniaturist to construct and paint the furnishings of her tiny house, the small creations shockingly begin to mimic the pieces that they are based on in real life in amazing and unsettling ways.

As the miniaturist works to complete the replica of the Brandts’ home, Nella learns more and more about her husband and about the secretive world of their household. It seems as though the miniaturist can foresee the future, but as the book progresses, Nella begins to wonder if the unusual man is really there to help or… or to ruin her.

“Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth,” reads the book jacket. The dramatic backdrop of pious 1680s Denmark only adds to the mystery and intrigue that Burton has created for readers in this book. The UK Observer calls The Miniaturist a “fabulously gripping read” and accurately recommends it to fans of Girl With a Pearl Earring and The Goldfinch. This fast-paced read is perfect to put as number one on your autumn reading list.

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #474 - "But mothers lie. It's in the job description.” ~ John Green

Two young women are witnesses to their mothers' murders. One of them might be a killer.

Elizabeth Little, author of 2 nonfiction books knocks it out of the park with Dear Daughter *, an "Agatha Christie meets Kim Kardashian... (a) sharp-edged, tart-tongued, escapist thriller", which Tana French praised as "The best debut mystery I've read in a long time"; and Kate Atkinson called "A really gutsy, clever, energetic read, often unexpected, always entertaining.... In the world of crime novels, Dear Daughter is a breath of fresh air."

After spending 10 years in prison for murdering her mother, former It Girl Janie Jenkins is out on a technicality. Her memory of the night in question is hazy, and there is no love lost between them, but she is determined to chase down the one lead she has on her mother's killer. As Janie makes her way (with a false identity) to an isolated South Dakota town, she discovers that even the sleepiest towns hide sinister secrets, and will stop at nothing to guard them.

On the run from a crime blogger convinced of her guilt, a suspicious police chief, maybe even a murderer, Janie must choose between the anonymity she craves and the truth she so desperately needs.

Set in the frozen tundra of rural Montana, Bone Dust White * is Karin Salvalaggio's literary mystery debut. The insistent pounding on her door brings Grace Adams to her bedroom window where she witnesses a man coming out of the woods, stabbing a woman and leaving her to die on Grace's doorstep. Before help arrives, Grace realizes the victim is her mother, Leanne who disappeared more than a decade before.

A heavily-pregnant Detective Macy Greeley is assigned to the case. She needs to track down the killer and find out what the murder has to do with Grace. But the town of Collier is just as hard-bitten now as it was 11 years ago when Macy worked a still-unsolved grisly sex-trafficking and multiple-homicide case. But no one is talking, least of all Grace, whom Macy believes knows a lot more than she's telling.

"The sharp twists, idiosyncratic characters, and vivid setting should appeal to fans of C. J. Box and Nevada Barr."

"This complicated, peel-away-layers debut procedural intoxicates from the opening page.... Recommend for fans of Archer Mayor, Gwen Florio, and Craig Johnson."

* = starred review

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #473

The Miniaturist * by Jessie Burton is the sole debut among LibraryReads Picks for August 2014! And for good reasons.

After a hasty wedding on a brisk autumn day in 1686, 18 yr.-old Nella Oortman arrives at wealthy merchant Johannes Brandt's splendid home on the Herengracht Canal as his new wife. While the much older Brandt is kind but distractedly distant and consumed with the running of his business, his sharp-tongued sister Marin is less than welcoming. Nella is charmed, however, with the extraordinary wedding gift Brandt presents her - a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist, an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways.

"In a debut that evokes Old Master interiors and landscapes, British actress Burton (Oxford) depicts a flourishing society built on water and trade, where women struggle to be part of the world. Her empathetic heroine, Nella, endures loneliness and confusion until a sequence of domestic shocks forces her to grow up very quickly."

"Enchanting, beautifully written, and exquisitely suspenseful, The Miniaturist is a magnificent story of love and obsession, betrayal and retribution, appearance and truth."

For readers who enjoyed Girl in Hyacinth Blue by Susan Vreeland; Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier; and The Stockholm Octavo by Karen Engelmann.

* = starred review

Stranger Danger: Sizzling Summer Reads #3 (& Fabulous Fiction Firsts #469)

This bumper crop of debut psychological thrillers would keep you chilled throughout the summer. Alright, this is a long post, but every one of these deserve your attention.

The Good Girl * by Mary Kubica
Inner-city art teacher Mia Dennett, the black-sheep daughter of a prominent Chicago judge is taken hostage after a one-night stand. The kidnapper Colin Thatcher, instead of delivering her to his employer for ransom, hides her in a secluded cabin in rural Minnesota. Gabe Hoffman, Chicago PD assigned to the case work closely with Eve, Mia's mother, to whom he finds himself increasingly attracted to. When eventually recovered, Mia has little memory of what happened to her.

"Kubica's debut thriller builds suspense steadily and will have readers guessing what's really going on until the final pages." It brings to mind Chevy Steven's smashing debut Still Missing.

From the author of the Archie Sheridan/Gretchen Lowell thrillers, One Kick * is the first in a nail-biting new series featuring 21 yr.-old Kick Lannigan, famously kidnapped when she was six, and rescued five years later. To add to her skill set (marksman, lock picker, escape artist and bomb maker) learned in captivity, Kick trained herself to be safe. When two children go missing in the Portland area, and an enigmatic and wealthy former weapons dealer approaches her with a proposition, Kick is set to be the crusader she has always imagined herself.

"A heart-stopping, entertaining thrill ride." Kick will remind readers of Lisbeth Salander as in The Girl who Kicked the Hornet's Nest.

Drawing on her own grandmother's experiences Elizabeth is Missing * by British Emma Healey, is a sophisticated psychological mystery. Maud Horsham will be the first to admit that her memory these days is shaky at best but she knows her best friend is missing and in serious danger. But no one will believe her - not her daughter and not the police. So Maud writes everything down, to help her remember clues about her missing friend, and she also writes down how she is treated. But the clues she discovers seem only to lead her deeper into her past, to another unsolved disappearance: her sister, Sukey, who vanished shortly after World War II.

"Part mystery, part meditation on memory, part Dickensian revelation of how apparent charity may hurt its recipients, this is altogether brilliant." "Fans of Alice LaPlante's Turn of Mind and S.J. Watson's Before I Go To Sleep (both FFF) will find much to love here."

An international bestseller and winner of France's prestigious Prix du Quai des Orfèvres prize for best crime fiction, The 7th Woman : a Paris homicide novel by Frédérique Molay is the first of her novels to be translated into English (also available in French in our World Language Collection).

Nico Sirsky, head of the Paris Criminal Investigation Division, known as "La Brigade Criminelle," or "La Crim", and his team of elite detectives race against the clock to solve the murders of a series of young women, all of whom opened their doors to the killer who announces his intention to kill seven women in as many days. To put added pressure on Sirsky, the killer begins to stalk those closest to him.

This series introduces to police procedural fans an endearingly tortured, hardheaded and romantic cop in the vein of Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

An Untamed State * * *, a debut by Roxane Gay is the harrowing tale of a Miami woman's ordeal of her kidnapping during a visit to her native Haiti. Beaten and sexually assaulted, she was held for 13 days while her father, a wealthy businessman, refused to pay the ransom.

"Gay's depiction of Mireille's emotional trauma after her release is particularly intense, precisely capturing her alienation from her own identity that followed the kidnapping and the self-destruction that spilled out of her sense of disconnection... Among the strongest achievements of this novel is that Mireille's story feels complete and whole while emphasizing its essential brokenness. A cutting and resonant debut."

Veteran journalist (the Washington Post) Neely Tucker dazzles with a fast-paced, newsroom investigative journalism in The Ways of the Dead * *, the first in a projected crime series that is based on the real-life 1990s Princeton Place murders.

When the teenage daughter of a powerful Washington, D.C., judge is found dead, three local black kids are arrested for her murder, but reporter Sully Carter suspects there's more to the case. From the city's grittiest backstreets to the elegant halls of power, Sully pursues a string of cold cases, all the while fighting against pressure from government officials, police, suspicious locals, and his own bosses at the newspaper.

A "wickedly entertaining story of race, crime, the law, and the power of the media."

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews
* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #468 - " ...the rich cargo, Congealed in the dark arteries" ~ Mervyn Peake

Two debut novels set in rural northeastern Pennsylvania.

Dry Bones in the Valley * * * by Tom Bouman

After losing his wife, a bereaved Henry Farrell returns to Wild Thyme Township in rural northeastern Pennsylvania, looking to spend his mornings hunting and fishing and his evenings playing music. As the lone policeman in "a landscape wracked by fracking, poverty, meth, and a general mistrust of authority", it falls to him to investigate when the body of a young man is found in the woods owned by a reclusive old codger, and his deputy George Ellis shot dead in his car. All before Henry literally stumbles over an ancient grave that might hold the answer to the current crime spree.

First in a projected 4-book series, "Bouman's debut shows rural noir at its finest: a poetically written mystery about a man struggling with his inner demons and an area of great natural beauty few had heard of before the natural gas boom." For fans of Craig Johnson, Julia Keller, and Wiley Cash.

In The Hollow Ground by award-winning debut novelist Natalie Harnett, underground mine fires forces 11 year-old Brigid Howley and her family to seek refuge with her estranged grandparents.

Tragedy is no stranger to the Howleys, a proud Irish-American clan who takes strange pleasure in the "curse" laid upon them generations earlier by a priest. When Brigid makes a grisly discovery in a long-abandoned bootleg mine shaft, decades' old secrets threaten to prove just as dangerous to the Howleys as the burning, hollow ground beneath their feet.

Inspired by the 1960s infamous Centralia coal mine fires, and the equally devastated town of Carbondale, The Hollow Ground is an extraordinary debut with an atmospheric, voice-driven narrative and an indelible sense of place. "Not since To Kill a Mockingbird has a young character been so heartbreakingly captivating."

"A powerful story of love and survival. "

* * * = 3 starred reviews

Fabulous Fiction Firsts #464 - The Best Crime Fiction Debuts (2014 Sizzling Summer Reads #1)

You knew about The Abomination and The Curiosity already. The following join Booklist's Best Mystery/Thriller Debuts of the year. Great chillers for the summer heat. Don't forget Summer Game 2104 starts today.

Decoded * by Jia Mai
This riveting tale of cryptographic warfare and a bestseller in China, takes us deep into the world of code breaking, and the mysterious world of Unit 701, a top-secret Chinese intelligence agency. Rong Jinzhen, an autistic math genius discovers that the mastermind behind the maddeningly difficult Purple Code is his former teacher and best friend, who is now working for China's enemy. The author's experience working in the Chinese intelligence service may have contributed to the story's realism.

The Deliverance of Evil * by Roberto Costantini
Haunted by a 24-years unsolved murder case from his early career, brash Commissario Michele Balistreri is overcome with remorse and renewed determination when the victim's mother commits suicide, in a first installment in a best-selling trilogy from Italy.

North of Boston * * by Elizabeth Elo
Surviving a fishing boat collision that ends her friend's life, Boston girl Pirio Kasparov, convinced that the incident was not an accident, is tapped to participate in a research project at the side of a journalist who helps her unravel a plot involving the frigid whaling grounds off Baffin Island.

Precious Thing * by Colette McBeth
Astonished to discover that a police press conference assignment is about her best friend from high school, television journalist Rachel endeavors to learn the fate of her missing friend before making a discovery that brings everything they once shared into question.

Shovel Ready * * by Adam Sternbergh (One of Booklist's Top 10 Crime Fiction as well as Best Crime Fiction Debuts of the year)
In this futuristic hard-boiled noir, working as a hit man on the ravaged streets of New York City after a dirty bomb is unleashed on Times Square, Spademan takes an assignment to kill the daughter of a powerful evangelist only to discover that his mark holds a shocking secret and that his client hides a more sinister agenda.

The Word Exchange * * by Alena Graedon
A dystopian novel for the digital age, when the "death of print" has become a near reality, Anana Johnson, an employee at the North American Dictionary of the English Language (NADEL), searches for her missing father and stumbles upon the spiritual home of the written world and a pandemic "word flu."

BTW...a personal favorite and a cautionary tale that is at once a technological thriller and a meditation on the high cultural costs of digital technology.

* = starred review
* * = 2 starred reviews

Bittersweet: an enthralling, suspenseful summer read

Bittersweet, the brand new novel by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, had me in its suspenseful grips until the very last page! The book begins innocently enough with the introduction of the main character, shy and plain Mabel, who lives in awe of her college roommate Ev Winslow. Wealthy, beautiful and mysterious, Ev seems to barely notice Mabel until they connect one evening in their dorm room and become fast friends. Mabel is overjoyed when Ev invites her to her family’s stunning summer property on Lake Champlain, and prepares for what will surely be the best summer of her life. Readers can’t help but feel a sense of foreboding, however, even as Mabel makes new friends, lounges on the beach and flirts with Ev’s brother. How exactly does Ev’s family have so much money when none of them seem to have jobs? And why does Ev’s aging, senile aunt keep begging Mabel to “find the manila folder” in the old family archives? As Mabel becomes more and more immersed in present and past family drama, it seems as though not only her presence at the summer estate but her very life may be in danger.

Maggie Shipstead, popular author of Seating Arrangements and Astonish Me, writes of Bittersweet: “a wild New England gothic full of family secrets, mysteriously locked doors, sailboats, suntans, forbidden lust, and a few priceless works of art. An engrossing summer blast.” Indeed, Bittersweet is the kind of book you want to bring with you this summer, whether you’re laying on the beach or just curled up on the front porch.

You can read more about Bittersweet and about Beverly-Whittemore on the author’s website. She also wrote The Effects of Light, which you will find in our collection!

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