ELLENVILLE – Pieces of Her by Karin Slaughter (Morrow). A smashing new novel by this elite suspense writer, who a few years ago left her excellent thriller series behind in favor of one stunning stand-alone after another. And now I’ll venture the questionable judgment, for the second time (I think I remember), that this is her best novel ever (the first time was about the first of the stand-alones, 2014’s Cop Town). Explosive action sometimes produces shocking revelations of character in Slaughter, and that’s especially true here. Mother-and-daughter relationships sometimes figure in, and she now brings that to a heart-wrenching new level, too.
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (Putnam). Rich and lovely first novel by an admired nature writer whose nonfiction I don’t know. We have a brilliant child abandoned by her more or less crazy parents, who grows up almost alone in a coastal marsh in North Carolina. We come to know her intimately, as she comes to know that wetland and its creatures and even its earth and its water. But it’s complicated, too — she does grow up, she has a love life of a sort and a sex life, becomes known to the town nearby — as a murder suspect. And as much as she’s the beating heart of the book, she isn’t the only character we come to know well, by any means. And the story isn’t told in a straightforward way. This is a suspenseful murder mystery, in one way of reading it, with a corpse and a suspect and even a trial; but it’s also an intricately made, really sophisticated novel. Foreshadowing is deftly-placed and answered exactly when needed. Heaven knows what Delia Owens will think to do next, but I can’t wait to see it.
Without Fear by Colonel David Hunt and R. J. Pineiro (Tom Doherty/Forge). A military action thriller, one of a growing category of strong, well-made books of this kind — not only explosive, thrilling combat, but also realistic characters to root for. Think Brad Taylor, Brad Thor, Ben Coes (I haven’t even looked anybody up, yet). It’s entertainment, not the sort of grab for literary immortality that wars also produce at times, but smart, skillful, seriously committed action with emotional weight. This is a big, full-value novel (which brings another name to mind: Tom Clancy), full of both military action and command decision-making, all turning around the Taliban in Afghanistan, in 2005, getting their hands on a nuclear weapon that needs just a little fixing.
The Man Who Couldn’t Miss by David Handler (Morrow). Lighter, but very smart, and the mystery’s real. This is Handler’s movie ghostwriter and his pal Lulu, a (sometimes) helpful Basset hound. They’re back in Connecticut, and more involved with theater people than movie people, terrifically believable, all. This continues his renewal of an old series; the column liked a lot last year’s The Girl with Kaleidoscope Eyes, and this one just as much.