Graham Norton’s first novel is small town soft crime, which some may argue is the best sort of crime (they would be wrong: the best sort of crime is the sort solved by cats). Norton’s chat show experience did not merely prepare him for a life of showing tired memes to bemused celebrities; it reveals the deep humanity that pervades Holding.
The desire to make a novel Big Little Lies is understandable. But Whisper Network, a new novel set around a lukewarm mystery at a sporting goods empire, is less like Big Little Lies than it is like fetch. Stop trying to make fetch happen.
The cat and mouse genre requires delicate calibration to work. If a reader is going to have two opposing forces driving a book’s narrative, it is often better to know one intimately and the other only in passing. Ran Will Come, the pseudonymous debut of screenwriter Thomas Holgate, gives near equal footing to its leads. It’s a bold move, and it pays off in places and confounds in others.
Thomas Harris’ first novel since 2006, first not written under duress since 1999, and first not featuring Hannibal Lecter since 1975, is a strange book, fleet of foot and overburdened of character. Cari Mora is a fondue pot of a novel: disparate elements covered in cheese, bubbling to the top at random intervals and vying for the attention of a wary reader. That sentence was less tortured than some of the prose in Cari Mora.
The world folds in on itself. Someone knows what’s coming before it happens, subverting the future with highly attuned déjà fu. A book takes a while to reveal itself, and traverses multiple genres to get there. This is Recursion.
Romance novels are an escape: from the mundanity of life, from a love drought, from a tired relationship. Red, White & Royal Blue was designed explicitly as an escape from modern politics, showcasing an incredibly utopian world in which Americans were willing to vote for a Democratic woman President in 2016, and the royal family are more than figureheads propping up a rapidly decomposing system. It could never happen, but it’s nice to dream. Casey McQuiston’s feel good hit of the Summer is probably the gayest mass market title of 2019, and its success is heartening.
In the early 1980s, Stephen King had death on the mind. Moreso than usual. Cujo is the second in what is at least a loose trilogy of meditations on grief and mortality and, given that it is famously the novel that King does not remember writing at all, it speaks to something in his subconscious. It is a pity on all counts, because this killer dog story is one of King’s harder hitting works, emphasising his skill with the mundane. With no supernatural elements in play, and without the deep-seated nihilism that infected Roadwork, Cujo is a dark work with a sparkling undercurrent.
Let’s be real: it’s amazing that Gillian Flynn didn’t properly explode until Gone Girl. Her first two novels were accomplished. Sharp Objects was disquieting and deeply unpleasant in places, but it was pointy right to the very end. Dark Places is more assured, with a strong mystery intertwined throughout and a more immediately understandable main character. Dark Places is a prescient novel; the fringe that it depicts is no longer underground.
There’s a general rule in Young Adult fiction that applies often enough to stick: if a story is about a boy with deep-seated character flaws, the characters around must adapt to accommodate him; if it is about a similar girl, she will have to undergo some growth and change so that the people in her life don’t give up on her forever. Hot Dog Girl, possibly one of the best cover and title combos on the YA market this year, definitely falls into this mould.
Elouise May Parker is a piece of work, and no one in her book understands her cockamamie scheme.
Some books can never hope to live up to their covers. Roadwork is one such novel. Richard Bachman goes introspective, shifting his focus to the family. The first Bachman book about adults is dark and nihilistic, with none of the optimism that characterises many King novels that run along similar lines. There is a certain distress involved in reading Roadwork, a crushing inevitability that perhaps can’t be helped. It’s a theme that King will return to as himself in Pet Sematary, but with no supernatural interference, Roadwork hits hard.