NEW YORK – Everything Happens for a Reason: And Other Lies I’ve Loved by Kate Bowler (Random House). Something I’ve learned from the wisest people I know is that you’re not a grown-up at all until you know that you’re going to die. We hate the thought for instinct-deep reasons, but much of what makes us crazy here and now is the stupid stuff we do to stay unaware of it. Knowing it, on the other hand, makes all the small stuff — day to day embarrassment, rage, terror, hopelessness, acne, bad breath — underwhelming, manageable. Still no fun, but when we’re not constantly flinching our stride becomes steadier, so our path seems smoother, and we might even become a little proud of our ability to tolerate knowing that One Big Thing. Kate Bowler has had stage 4 colon cancer for long enough to believe in her own death (the when of it is still about as uncertain for her as it is for you), and to cherish all the more, and wrest maximum enjoyment from, her life. She’s generous — a little impatient, once in a while — with those who are further away from it (maybe) than she is, and witty, and even on her worst days good company. Get to know her; you’ll be glad you did for the rest of your life.
The Gate Keeper by Charles Todd (Morrow). My single favorite of the week’s suspense star catch-ups; Inspector Rutledge gets wiser, year by year — which is sometimes to say, less certain, as even his past becomes more complicated — and ever more rewarding to follow through a case. And the cases continue to command our attention, too. We’re deep in a classic series, here.
Hellbent: An Orphan X Novel by Gregg Hurwitz (St. Martin’s Minotaur). Just the third of this series — something like Jack Reacher but in more twisty plots — by an already established elite thriller writer. It takes a writer at that elevated level to sustain character depth in plot complexity and keep our minds clear, maintaining traction around ever speedier curves.
The Pope of Palm Beach by Tim Dorsey (Morrow). Outrageously funny Serge Storm is moving gradually up from the Florida Keys and nearer his childhood home, looking in on scenes of his early life that we haven’t known much about. He’s as hilarious as ever, but these books have always been sneakily smart, too, and now faint shadows are beginning to appear around the edges of Serge’s world view.
House Witness: A Joe DeMarco Thriller by Mike Lawson (Atlantic Monthly Press). A sort of "fixer" who works around the edges of national politics is the central figure in this sophisticated series. In this episode, politics isn’t so central (a relief, actually, these days). As usual, DeMarco’s out to achieve some justice by hook or by crook in what he rather casually accepts as a generally corrupt world, but in this case, it’s the corruption that can underlie financial power and the courts. The bad guys are a lot smarter than you and me, but DeMarco is even smarter.