Now that it’s officially summer—as of June 21—it’s time to plan not only your vacation but, and perhaps more importantly, your vacation reading. Whether you’re in the mood to settle in with new tales from old favorites like Stephen King and Don Winslow or branch out with German screenwriter Sascha Arango’s debut or the first English translation of Czech author Heda Margolius Kovály’s novel that was nearly censored out of existence, this month’s selections have you covered. Better make sure you set aside an extra suitcase for books or at the very least make sure you have ample storage space on your Kindle for all the new downloads.
Innocence; Or, Murder on Steep Street
By Heda Margolius Kovály (Soho Crime, June 2)
Best known for her acclaimed memoir Under a Cruel Star, which recounted her time in Auschwitz, Czech author Kovály (1919-2010) also penned this fantastic homage to Chandler set in a Kafkaesque 1950s Prague. Paranoia runs rampant in the Communist-oppressed city and when a little boy is murdered in a movie theater, it seems obvious that the culprit is the projectionist. Things get more complicated when the investigating officer meets a similar fate, and it turns out that the female ushers at the theater are hiding all manner of secrets. Previously unpublished in English (and translated here from the Czech by Alex Zucker), Kovály’s novel of double-crosses and double lives is made all the more authentic by the fact that her first husband was executed by the Communist party in 1952.
Stephen King (Scribner, June 2)
Even if you haven’t read 2014’s Mr. Mercedes (which you should—there’s a reason it won the Edgar for Best Novel), King’s latest can be a solid, unrelentingly creepy stand-alone. After serving 35 years in prison for killing his literary idol, Morris Bellamy returns to the Midwestern town where he squirreled away the prized notebooks of the Salinger-esque John Rothstein, only to find that another super-fan, Peter Saubers, has found them. With Bellamy, who’s undeniably one of King’s scariest creations—and that’s saying something—hot on his heels, Saubers turns to retired detective Bill Hodges, from Mr. Mercedes, for protection. Finders Keepers has echoes of both Misery and The Shining, as King digs deep into not only the madness that exists just beyond the margin of the page but also the thin veneer between fan and fanatic.
Paul Tremblay (Morrow, June 2)
Tremblay takes a well-worn premise—is this teenage girl truly possessed by the devil or is she mentally ill?—and builds a fully fleshed out and truly terrifying family drama around it. Moving back and forth between the present, when Meredith “Merry” Barrett is recounting her unusual and traumatic childhood to a journalist, and the events of 15 years earlier, when Merry’s older sister, Marjorie, begins exhibiting symptoms of schizophrenia, Tremblay keeps the reader guessing what’s real and what’s fabricated on the part of Merry, Marjorie, or some combination of the two. To further muddy the waters, the girls’ father decides that instead of seeking traditional medical attention for Marjorie, the best course of action for his daughter is to call in a priest to perform an exorcism and, because the Barretts are strapped for cash, allow a sleazy reality show called “The Possession” to film the whole thing. While it’s no surprise that nothing goes according to plan, the myriad ways that everything violently spins out of control is a testament to Tremblay’s skill. Read this one with the lights on.
Michael Harvey (Knopf, June 16)
If you’re jonesing for a House of Cards fix after bingeing on the third season of Netflix’s political drama this spring, Harvey’s latest installment in his Chicago-based series—the first since 2011’s We All Fall Down—will satisfy your need for dirty politicians. Private eye Michael Kelly is still feeling the effects of the bioterrorism attack from Fall Down and he’s skittish about new assignments. Still, the prospect of tracking down the famed Ray Perry, the state’s disgraced governor who disappeared two years earlier after being convicted on racketeering charges, and a substantial payday is too tempting to resist. Kelly starts with Ray’s wife, Marie, and follows an increasingly twisted path that takes him deep inside the Chicago political machine. The power-hungry politicians of the city—and those behind the scenes who are just as greedy—give the players in our nation’s capital on House of Cards a run for their money.
Sascha Arango (Atria, June 23)
In German screenwriter Arango’s debut, a seemingly successful author is not what he appears. On the surface, Henry Hayden has the perfect life: he’s a bestselling writer with a beautiful wife, Martha, and he’s universally adored. Except he hasn’t actually written a word of those novels—Martha has. And now his mistress (who also happens to be his editor) is pregnant and Henry’s life is crumbling before his eyes. It’s not spoiling the plot to say that, in trying to “fix” things, Henry makes everything spectacularly worse in every possible way. Arango weaves dry humor throughout his tale of a man’s inevitable downfall so that readers can’t help but be riveted by Henry’s fall from grace, a descent of his own making.
Don Winslow (Knopf, June 23)
Set in 2004, this sequel to 2005’s The Power of the Dog continues the bloody saga of the Mexican drug wars. DEA agent Art Keller has pulled away from the frontlines and is now in charge of bees at a New Mexico monastery when he hears that his old nemesis, Adán Barrera, the leader of the Sinaloan cartel El Federación, has escaped from prison. Barrera is set on regaining control of his drug kingdom, and Keller agrees to return to active duty to track him down, despite the fact that Barrera seems to be protected by both the Mexican police and the government. War breaks out between rival cartels thanks to Barrera’s resurgence and violence overtakes the city of Ciudad Juárez. During his hunt for Barrera, Keller falls in love with a beautiful doctor, Marisol Cisneros, who’s a member of a resistance movement committed to standing up against the cartel violence. As he did in Dog, Winslow illustrates both the destructive power of the drug wars in Mexico as well as the United States’ own “war on drugs” campaign. Grab a copy of The Power of the Dog and sit down for a long, uninterrupted double-header reading session.
Photo: Shane Leonard