Out of Thin Air
As much about Iceland’s interesting history (think Cod Wars, Pots and Pans Revolution, ICE-SAR) as it is an investigation into the island’s two most notorious and controversial murders, OUT OF THIN AIR is as disturbing as it is fascinating. It is a sort of Making of a Murderer, Icelandic version: three young people accuse four well-standing members of the community before eventually confessing to crimes themselves, only to have the cases reopened years later and inconceivable injustices exposed.
Beneath the Mountain
Picture a small village called Siebenhoch, high in the Italian mountains. Salinger—a new father joining his wife’s family for a few months’ break from a once successful career making Road Crew documentaries—suddenly spots a red helicopter in the sky. Creative curiosity sparked, he learns that his wife’s father-in-law was cofounder of the search-and-rescue team known as Dolomite Mountain Rescue and persuades him to allow the life-threatening work to be filmed for a new documentary series. The tragedy that stems from this climactic climb to the tops of breathtaking peaks only to be swallowed by “the Beast” is a montage that plays over and over in my mind throughout the rest of the novel, where, trapped in a veil of hollow guilt, Salinger turns his efforts to the 1985 case of murdered students, once again inserting himself into the small-town community uneager to give up its secrets.
I read THE SWIMMER when it first came out three years ago and still vividly remember the chase scenes across icy snow; plots with strings tied together across Sweden, Brussels, and the United States; and the stolen information secreted on laptops as in Stieg Larsson’s THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. The jumps in the timeline intrigued me, including a significant opening scene in a foreign country told in first person, which left enough holes to try to place the who and the why, forming a running undercurrent to much of the book. Klara Walldéen’s demanding job involving IT security and the intricacies of international politics put her unwittingly at the center of a conspiracy made up of a variety of players, many of whom narrate sections of the book—including the CIA agent father she’s never met.
The Perfect Nanny
THE PERFECT NANNY tops the list of books that grip you from the first page. From the opening line, you learn the fates of Myriam’s children at the hands of their nanny, Louise. Louise is incomparable, unconquerable, unfazed; she’s every adjective to describe efficiency, precision, perfection. But Myriam’s daughter, Mila, is a difficult child—smart, cunning, deliberate with her misbehavior, and equally as resourceful as her nanny, though with opposite intentions. That is, until Louise starts to tell her stories, stories that are somewhat unconventional in plot. Myriam and her husband may continue to reap the benefits of their newly organized life, but even the most perfect families have flaws, no matter how buried. The tone of Slïmani’s number-one international bestseller and winner of France’s literary prize, the Goncourt, is one that betrays a deeper narrative just waiting to uncoil into madness.
The Good Assassin
THE GOOD ASSASSIN caught my eye because of the enthusiastic reviews for Vidich’s previous Cold War novel, AN HONORABLE MAN, relating it to BRIDGE OF SPIES and John Le Carré spy thrillers. Vidich’s newest novel examines 1958 Cuba, the turmoil of dictator Fulgencio Batista’s hold on Havana, and the former CIA agent placed there. As a favor to the CIA director, George Mueller agrees to spend about a week interacting with his undergraduate classmate and former CIA colleague, Toby Graham. As someone Graham will hopefully trust, his mission is to report on Graham’s level of commitment to the cause, his happiness, and his state of mind, as Graham’s superiors are beginning to question his loyalty. Expected to work together with Frank Pryce, the FBI’s plant in Havana, Mueller quickly realizes he’s stumbled upon more than he expected, with grave consequences.
This highly acclaimed novel by Japanese writer Hideo Yokoyama reopens a 14-year-old unsolved kidnapping of a young Japanese schoolgirl. Yoshinobu Mikami, the former detective on the old kidnapping case, finds himself rushing to a morgue to see if the body of a teenage girl is that of his own missing daughter. It’s not her, but this isn’t the first time he and his wife have anxiously prepared themselves to examine another body, reliving the moment the sheet is pulled back and wondering what it might feel like if the girl beneath is not a stranger. His daughter’s disappearance weighing heavily on his mind, he turns to the cold case to try to give closure to the schoolgirl’s family, unintentionally stumbling upon evidence in the case files that something is terribly wrong.
The amazing cover for LIAR’S CANDLE was the first thing to grab my attention; the fact that it is set in Turkey was even more intriguing, as I’d never read a thriller set there before. The opening description of twenty-one-year-old Penny lying unconscious with head trauma in an Ankara hospital is so vivid, even more so when you learn that diplomatic-security special agents in plainclothes are right outside. Penny is only an intern, hurt by an explosion in the US Embassy garden, but suddenly, she’s thrown into the center of a CIA investigation as a key witness.
A Girl in Exile
Imagine being a playwright whose most recent book is found alongside the body of a young girl. Imagine how easy it might be to go from being questioned about her death to becoming an obsessive, self-provoked investigator, bent on finding the connection between the two of them and uncovering the details of her life. Set in Albania during its 1945–91 dictatorship, playwright Rudian Stefa’s journey becomes the story of an artist’s struggle with an oppressive regime, of the intersection of a creator and his audience. Excerpts of Stefa’s play paired with a narrative that analyzes facts, structure, and myths make for an immersive experience of questioning truths and tracing the line between life and death.