Fiction from Grisham and Woods, a Debut, and Best American Science Fiction | Xpress Reviews

For sophisticated sf/fantasy readers; a captivating and suspenseful tale from Grisham; a debut that doesn't quite catch fire; noir with a side of vulgar

Week ending September 30, 2016


The Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2016. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. (Best American). Oct. 2016. 320p. ed. by Karen Joy Fowler & John Joseph Adams. ISBN 9780544555204. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544555211. SF

For this second annual volume, guest editor Fowler and series editor Adams have collected 80 stories culled from various U.S. publications. Twenty are published in full here; the other 60 are listed at the end as Notable Mentions. Highlights include Kelly Link’s “The Game of Smash and Recovery,” in which a child discovers the truth about her brother and herself. In “The Duniazát” by Salman Rushdie, philosophers make their mark throughout generations. A tired partner’s attempt to ease her loved one’s illness through an online game brings unexpected results in Charlie Jane Anders’s “Rat Catcher’s Yellows.” Whether conjuring a little magic or exploring technology’s impact, these impressive selections demonstrate that these works may be brief in length but long on complexity and voice.

Verdict Sophisticated sf/fantasy readers will find here everything they enjoy about the genre, plus a few other surprising delights.—Kristi Chadwick, Massachusetts Lib. Syst., South Deerfield


Grisham, John. The Whistler. Doubleday. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780385541190. $28.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385541206. F

whistler093016In his latest legal thriller (after Rogue Lawyer), Grisham addresses a timely and sensitive topic—who judges prominent judges who break the law? Lacy Stolz, a lawyer who examines instances of judicial misconduct for the Florida Board on Judicial Conduct, usually investigates issues of incompetence, but now she’s entrenched in a corruption case. Greg Myers, a disbarred lawyer practicing under an assumed identity, claims his client, a state employee too scared to pursue a claim under the Florida Whistleblower Law, has uncovered some dirt about circuit court judge Claudia McDover, who apparently is in the pocket of the local Mafia. In exchange for rigging trials, McDover skims her share from Indian casinos and launders it with the assistance of a friendly trust and estate lawyer. This case, with its close connections to the mob, becomes a dangerous and deadly assignment for Lacy and Hugo Hatch, her married assistant who’s struggling to raise his family.

Verdict This captivating and suspenseful tale offers a welcome reminder of how Grisham expertly and entertainingly interweaves his story line with the mechanics of the legal process. [See Prepub Alert, 4/25/16.]—Jerry P. Miller. Cambridge, MA


Valente, Anne. Our Hearts Will Burn Us Down. Morrow. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9780062429117. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062429131. F

[DEBUT] School shootings are, sadly, commonplace, as are novels about school shootings (e.g., Lionel Shriver’s We Need To Talk About Kevin), so any new entry into this genre needs a hook. First-time novelist Valente attempts to turn up the heat by adding a mystery. Although the identity of the gunman who bursts into Lewis and Clark High School and murders 27 of his fellow classmates is known from the outset, the entire community is further terrified when the house of one of the victims burns to the ground, killing the girl’s grieving parents. Four juniors, members of the school yearbook committee, try to make sense of what’s happening—documenting events for posterity as one by one the victims’ homes go up in flames. Valente intersperses news articles, obituaries, and interesting, poetic side-chapters (“A Brief History of Fatal Fires,” “A Brief History of Home Combustion”) with chapters told in third person and ones exploring each of the four teenagers’ experiences during the shooting and its aftermath. Unfortunately, the author works too hard to be clever. Choppy, overly dramatic and repetitious phrasing quickly becomes irritating. When it goes on for lengthy paragraphs and in chapter after chapter, the emphasis becomes monotonous.

Verdict Some sparks but an unrealized premise and indulgent style keep this debut from catching fire.—Christine Perkins, Whatcom Cty. Lib. Syst., Bellingham, WA


Woods, Jonathan. Kiss the Devil Good Night. 280 Steps. Nov. 2016. 308p. ISBN 9788283550283. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9788283550290. F

Bill Derringer, a Yale dropout with two tours of duty in Iraq and a stint in a mental hospital, is bored out of his mind. Currently on unpaid furlough from his civilian job, he and his wife, Edie, decide to road trip it to Florida to visit her Aunt Ida in Orlando. After a few drunken evenings, resulting in a renewed love affair between Edie and Ida, the three decide to rip off a local gun and ammo show. Their ill-conceived heist fails, leaving the two women on the run and Derringer behind bars. After serving his time, he ends up at a halfway house where he teams up with Jane, who shares his sociopathic tendencies. The two embark on a big score of their own: to retrieve a suitcase once owned by Beat writer William Burroughs. Their madcap adventure serendipitously leads them to the despised Aunt Ida and a whole host of outrageous characters and events.

Verdict Woods (A Death in Mexico) delivers a jumpy and sexually explicit tale that never quite hits its stride, much like its protagonist. Exploring locales from Florida to Mexico, as well as the dark ruminations of its antihero, this title might be handed to readers who like their noir with a side of vulgar.—Amy Nolan, St. Joseph, MI

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