PositiveNewsdayUnderground Airlines boasts plenty of priceless details ... imbuing the proceedings with a deep sense of morality, sparing neither North nor South, Winters allows himself to cut loose in preacherly fashion ... That Winters is white adds a layer of complexity to the book. Perhaps acknowledging his audacity in taking authorial ownership of the slavery narrative, he has a black Indiana cop who works with Barton criticize the priest for having a 'Mockingbird’ mentality' — believing that 'the white man is the saver, the black man gets saved.'
Rise the DarkMichael Koryta
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThough Novak is not the most charismatic hero, the book's atmospheric power and strong cast of supporting characters make Rise the Dark compelling from the get go. As usual in a Koryta novel, there is a supernatural aspect to the story, one that is subtly applied here but promises to play a sizable role in Novak's future adventures.
You Will Know MeMegan Abbott
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIn hijacking young-adult fiction for her own devious grown-up purposes, [Abbott] writes from such a chilly remove you may want to turn up the thermostat. But the underlying tension she sustains is so beautifully unbearable, you may be unable to leave the couch ... [an] un-put-downable new novel ... Abbott is a literary descendant of Richard Yates, John Cheever and other writers who captured what used to be called lives of quiet desperation.
The Crow GirlErik Axl Sund
MixedThe Chicago TribuneSund is relentless in scraping away at both physical and psychological wounds, leaving us with scenes and images that may make you leave the room: 'the wave of sour sweat as his pants fall to the floor.' Ultimately, The Crow Girl — the first entry, I hasten to point out, in a trilogy — is unable to keep up with itself. Various stretches sag. But fired up by moral concerns, this book's engine never stops humming.
I'm Thinking of Ending ThingsIain Reid
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneHowever creepy the circumstances, though, it's the disembodiment of the characters that grabs us the most. 'Spoiler alert!' warn stickers on copies of the book, inviting readers who 'want to talk about what happens' to do so on a designated web page. But what happens plot-wise in I'm Thinking of Ending Things — even in its tingliest moments — is of secondary interest ... Reid, a Canadian whose writing seems influenced by the great Toronto-based filmmaker David Cronenberg, is a master of tension — and more tension. Never does he release us from his unsettling grip ...That's a lot of philosophic weight for a slim, 200-page volume to bear (Jung gets name checked, as does Thomas Bernhard). But with his relentless attack and edgy, pared-down, sneaky prose, Reid pulls it off ... this is the boldest and most original literary thriller to appear in some time.
Wilde LakeLaura Lippman
RaveThe Chicago TribuneUltimately, Wilde Lake is not so much a crime novel that rises to the level of serious literature as serious literature that rises to the level of great crime fiction ... In the case of this novel, the form allows the author to share her outspoken female wisdom on everything from civil rights — though recent events in Baltimore are only alluded to, they haunt the narrative — to homosexuality during the poisonous Reagan era to parenthood. Though we always want there to be a reason for the things our children do, Lu says as narrator, sometimes 'the wheel spins and you get a damaged kid.'
The Second Life of Nick MasonSteve Hamilton
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAs fertile as Chicago is for crime fiction, it isn't often that an outsider captures the underside of the local scene as memorably as Steve Hamilton does with The Second Life of Nick Mason, the terrific first installment in a projected series ... Loudly promoted on social media, the novel more than lives up to its hype. In so doing, it introduces a promising second life for Hamilton as well.
The TrespasserTana French
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneNeither French nor her hard-edged, gloriously rough-speaking detective are in any hurry to put the pieces of these narratives together. The book, sometimes to a fault, largely consists of long, discursive dialogue scenes. The crime is approached from every conceivable angle ... The Trespasser is not without its stock characters...But there's nothing standard about French's approach to crime fiction, which plays the form much like a jazz musician improvising on a standard. Even when the outlines of the mystery seem familiar, as they do in The Trespasser, she finds a way to get at enriching themes and powerful emotional truths in fresh and surprising ways.
The High Mountains of PortugalYann Martel
MixedThe Chicago TribuneMartel's blend of fable, magic realism, road comedy and religious philosophy never coheres. But there's no denying the simple pleasures to be had in The High Mountains of Portugal
The GunFuminori Nakamura
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...this short novel is less about the making of a psychopath than the deep imprint guns have made on the collective consciousness. The notion that guns don't kill people, people do, is chillingly rebuked.
Another Day in the Death of AmericaGary Younge
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneOne of the saddest aspects of Another Day in the Death of America is its lack of surprise ... [it] is not a book geared toward penetrating the walls of detachment and even indifference that everyday citizens build to deal (or not deal) with the violence ... Younge's anecdotal style has a measured strength ... The author's difficulty in finding and questioning relatives of the young shooting victims proves a stumbling block he can't always get past.
Hank: The Short Life and Long Country Road of Hank WilliamsMark Ribowsky
MixedThe Chicago TribuneNumerous biographies have been written about Alabama native Hiram King Williams...But none catalogs the drinking, sexual profligacy and assorted misadventures of the legend as thoroughly and relentlessly as Mark Ribowsky's Hank ... For readers with gaper's syndrome, the pileups in these pages may be hard to turn away from. But for all the reportage on the wreckage that was Williams' life, the singer largely remains a cipher ... But Hank fails to get far enough under the artist's skin...Ribowsky also fails to illuminate how Williams' transcendent songs and performances could arise from what was in many ways a mundane existence.
Little DeathsEmma Flint
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIt has been a long time since a novel captured a time and place as powerfully as Emma Flint's shattering debut ... she is hardly the creature of low morals and icy veins who is driving tabloid sales. Her devastating inner monologues reveal quite the opposite: Her grief 'was black and hungry and huge like an open, roaring mouth...And inside it: the loneliness, the loss, the lost-ness.' In portraying '60s New York culture with all its boozing, corruption and sexism, Flint goes where Mad Men dared not go. That the author is British makes her achievement all the more amazing.
Ill WillDan Chaon
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[an] offbeat, powerfully unsettling murder mystery ... The deeper you get into the free-streaming narratives of Ill Will, which moves back and forth in time, changing points of view, the hazier they become. Painting the past with what one character calls a 'swimmy quality,' Ill Will undercuts the reliability and usefulness of memories ... the writerly stagecraft keeps the reader off guard and sometimes on edge, in a kind of altered cognitive state. There's a lot going on under the surface of Ill Will — more than one reading will reveal. Going back and reading this oddly compelling book again will only provide more pleasure.
Since We FellDennis Lehane
RaveThe Chicago TribuneFree of the period demands of his excellent recent novels, Lehane is in feisty form, channeling classic noir with cutting irony. As ever, he has you falling for his seemingly effortless command as a writer and the ease with which he sinks his hooks into you.
Lonesome Lies Before UsDon Lee
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMost novelists would let Yadin's sad, soulful tale carry the day and employ Jeanette as a literary backup singer. But for Lee, her life is no less meaningful — or, in a spiritual sense, magnificent — in all its heartbreaks and derailed hopes … The title of the novel, taken from one of Yadin's new songs, has a double meaning. Yadin says it refers to the state of lonesomeness that lies ahead. But in more significant ways, it addresses the ‘lonesome lies’ — the sad, unexceptional mistruths — that can shape people's lives … Like a great album — Parsons' Grievous Angel, let's say — Lonesome Lies Before Us is both a collection of brilliantly realized moments and a work that transcends the sum of its parts. There are no minor observations in this novel, no scenes that don't matter. In the end, the depth of feeling attained by the exceptionally sensitive Lee lingers, inspiring more spins through his songlike prose. A novel more full of life, musical and other, is hard to imagine.
Into the WaterPaula Hawkins
PanThe Chicago TribuneHawkins' sophomore effort disappoints on all counts. Like a washing machine stuck in spin cycle, without the sudsy emotion that would give it pulp appeal, Into the Water goes over and over the same ground for nearly 400 pages, tossing its large cast of narrators together to confusing effect ... For all of the book's eerie trappings, Hawkins fails to capture the dark powers the Drowning Pool is said to have. Like many other elements in this overcooked, underachieving novel, it's one-dimensional.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIt's a compelling story, told with Turow's usual ease, authority and understated humor. But after all these years, he can't escape the shadow of Presumed Innocent — nor, for all the distance his protagonist travels, does he seem to want to. Boom's ill-advised affair with the sexually charged Esma can't help but recall the far more incendiary illicit romance between Rusty Sabich and Carolyn Polhemus. Perhaps if Boom were less straight-laced, the affair would heat up the pages. As it is, it's rather lukewarm in a by-the-numbers kind of way.
The Late ShowMichael Connelly
RaveThe Chicago TribuneWriting about the instantly appealing police Detective Renee Ballard recharges Connelly, who has never been in better form ... Even after all these novels, Connelly hasn't run out of things to tell us about police procedure. One abduction scene plays out in surprising ways, ultimately calling into question the very act of self-defense. It grounds itself with references to real crimes ... For all the stark drama and realism in his books, Connelly is ever aware of the need to entertain.
Love Like BloodMark Billingham
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAs strong a thriller as Love Like Blood is, Billingham fails to fully capture the monstrosity of these crimes and the people who countenance them in the name of morality. Having a comically mismatched pair of killers do the evil deeds doesn't help. But if Love Like Blood doesn't rise to the level of other Billingham novels, it's still a solid effort, bolstered by the social conscience that sets him apart.
The ForceDon Winslow
RaveThe Chicago Tribune[Winslow's] gut punch of a new cop thriller, The Force, gets so deep inside the horror of what Homicide author David Simon called life on the street, it leaves you fearful that its invented outcomes will become reality ... once the author, a former investigator, starts tightening the screws of this by stunning drama, it has you unrelentingly in its grip.
A Legacy of SpiesJohn Le Carré
RaveThe Chicago Tribunele Carre again stakes his claim as the only contemporary spy novelist who really matters. In revisiting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carre gets to peel back its narrative to reveal juicy new details, with no lack of dark humor. He also gets to frame the story in the consciousness of a new era. His central theme, more potent than ever, is 'how much of our human feeling can we dispense with in the name of freedom ... before we cease to feel either human or free?' Or, how long will it be before the violence we commit in the name of peace and religion destroy those values? A kind of eulogy for the present as well as the past, A Legacy of Spies is haunting in the way it downgrades human connections and casts out Peter Guillam from a hopeful existence.