Touch & Go by Lisa Gardner

Lisa Gardner’s latest thriller, Touch & Go, opens with the kidnapping of the wealthy Denbe family–the parents and a teenaged daughter–from their home. The investigation is complicated by the fact that the family are such pillars of the community that no one wants to step on their toes, and the company they own has hired its own investigator. Some posturing ensues–whose jurisdiction is it, just who gets to touch what evidence–though ultimately, the various parts find a way to work together.

The large cast of characters includes the secretive family members, a bunch of bad-ass kidnappers, D.D. Warren (whom Gardner fans will recognize from the eponymous series),  and another recurring character, Tessa Leoni from Love You More. Added to the mix is a sheriff named Wyatt Foster. Gardner is masterful, of course, at creating suspense, and Touch & Go is no exception. While the characters at times feel like parodies, this is nonetheless a fun ride, a well-plotted pot-boiler that will keep you turning pages.

Buy the book.

 Dutton Adult

ISBN-13: 978-0525953074

The Next Time You See Me by Holly Goddard Jones

The Next Time You See Me

The Next Time You See Me, the debut novel by Holly Goddard Jones, is a literary mystery in the tradition of Kate Atkinson. The novel opens with the discovery of a body in the woods by a misfit middle-schooler named Emily Houchens. The novel’s plot hinges on Emily’s strange reaction to the body; rather than telling the police or her parents, she keeps the knowledge to herself, relishing the secret and hoping to share it with the boy in her class on whom she has a crush, a wealthy kid named Christopher whose repeated cruelty to Emily is the source of the most heart-wrenching scenes in the book.

Soon, we meet young schoolteacher Susanna, the only person in the small factory town who believes foul play may be involved in the disappearance of her sister, Ronnie, who has a reputation as a drinker and troublemaker. Susanna, who is suffering through an unhappy marriage, isn’t an easy character to like, but she is believable in her complexity. While attempting to get the police to pay attention to her sister’s disappearance, Susanna takes her bullied student, Emily, under her protection.

The novel is told in a shifting third person point of view. In addition to Emily and Susanna, we hear from  Emily’s neighbor, a quiet factory worker named Wyatt, as well as from the lonely middle-aged nurse who cares for him and the detective whom Susanna regrets turning down for a date a decade ago, when they were in high school. While this is a small town, the residents, each trapped in his or her own private struggles, are not always aware of what links them; their failure to truly understand one another gives this the feel not of an idyllic small town but rather of a community falling apart at the seams, its deterioration at once physical, economic, and moral.

Goddard Jones manages just the right amount of creepiness, mixed with strong characterizations. While there is a mystery at the heart of the novel, it’s not a whodunnit, as Goddard lets the reader know pretty early on not only that Ronnie is the body in the woods, but also who killed her. The mystery lies, instead, in the characters’ unusual reactions to their own suffering. Goddard Jones excels in peeling back the layers of human nature, so that, while our heart breaks for a troubled child, we also understand why she is an outcast, and while we are aware of the decomposing body in the woods, we nonetheless are able, in some way, to feel the sorrow of the murderer’s own life falling apart.

Touchstone, Feb. 2013  ISBN 978-1451683363

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Visit Holly Goddard Jones’s website.

Reviewed by Michelle Richmond, New York Times bestselling author of The Year of Fog.

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister

Hikikomori and the Rental Sister, Jeff Backhaus’s beautiful debut novel, opens with a man locked inside a room, unable to come out except for in the middle of the night, while his wife is sleeping. Ever since losing his young son in an accident which he feels he should have prevented, Thomas Tessler has been hikikomori–a common enough condition in Japan for which Americans have no name. Megumi, a young woman from Japan whose own grief and alienation prompted her move to New York City three years before, is called upon to help him. Megumi’s job: to coax him out of his room, so that he can have a life again.

I did not come inside one day, shut the door, and decide never to come out. I needed a day to grieve. Then a week. A month. Tired, I took a nap. When I woke, it was dark. The walls were high. There was no way out.

When Thomas’s wife, Silke, pleads with Megumi to save her husband, Megumi reluctantly agrees to visit the apartment, planning to only go once. Finding herself drawn to Thomas, whose plight is similar to that of her dead brother, Megumi continues to return, day after day, until finally, Thomas opens the door a crack. As their intimacy grows, Megumi begins to realize that she wants more than to simply be Thomas’s savior. There is a kind of innocence to the eroticism that unfolds between them, and while Silke cannot help but suspect that there is more to Megumi’s process than merely talking with her husband, there is nothing torrid or cheap about this love triange. Backhaus manages to create genuine empathy for Thomas, Megumi, and Silke, and to make readers feel the separate and devastating loss that each of them is experiencing

Beckhaus’s writing is spare and beautiful. If at times simplistic, it is the simplicity of a very young woman whose unique talents have thrust her into a very complex situation.  What I love about this novel is that there is never too much on the page; there is always just enough. There is a lightness to the novel, despite the characters’ enduring sadness–a lightness not of mood but of atmosphere. Imbued with the sense of quiet and delicacy that permeates the best of Japanese fiction, Hikikoromi and the Rental Sister is an extremely promising debut. Put Jeff Backhaus at the top of your list of writers to watch.

Algonquin Books, Jan. 2013 ISBN 978-1616201371

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Michelle Richmond is the author of the international bestseller The Year of Fog, No One You Know, Dream of the Blue Room, and the award-winning story collection The Girl in the Fall-Away Dress.

The Not Yet by Moira Crone (starred review)

Moira Crone’s The Not Yet is disturbing, entrancing, and unforgettable. Set in the 22nd century in a barely recognizable New Orleans–known in the complex and fascinating dystopian geography of the novel as the New Orleans Islands–The Not Yet explores our obsession with youth and appearance against a backdrop of irreversible and frighteningly plausible climate change.

This is a world in which the all-powerful Heirs gain extreme longevity by making a terrible trade. Everything about their lives is orchestrated for pleasure and extravagance–down to their shells, the physical manifestations that cover their bodies and faces and have no correlation to the shriveling, aging bodies that are hidden from view. The Heirs live in a world of Cirque-du-Soleil like fancy, but, despite their prosperity, the price they pay is extreme. Utterly removed from the sensual pleasures that still thrive among the lower classes, the Nats and the Not-Yets, the Heirs survive on a bland diet of non-food, which they consider superior to the lowly, real food of the non-heirs.

In Crone’s richly imagined world, government has become more invasive, society more divided, with strict divisions among classes. The social order is so rigid that non-heirs are not allowed to touch the Heirs whom they serve. The orphan at the center of the novel, Malcolm de Lazarus, survives his childhood as an actor in the Sims, elaborate performances that allow Heirs to laugh at the absurdities of life before the scientific discoveries that made near-immortality possible. The story jogs back and forth between Malcolm’s childhood and his struggle as a 20-year-old man to survive and to claim his inheritance. He is a “Not Yet” because he has not yet become an heir, but is in line to achieve that enviable state.

The Not Yet is the most forceful depiction of global warming that I have ever seen. New Orleans is a series of islands which continue to sink, and yet the spirit of New Orleans is still alive in strange places that Malcolm discovers in a journey by boat among the islands. The entire country has been divided up into territories and protectorates, and there seems to be little communication among the various regions except at the highest levels of government.

The Not Yet shimmers with the extraordinarily descriptive prose and surprising turns of phrase that anyone familiar with Moira Crone’s work has come to expect from her. But it is far more than a unique, inimitable style that makes this novel so memorable. It feels prophetic and important. In one scene, Malcolm’s mentor sends him out to find ancient texts. As the novel progresses, she immerses herself in these texts–a blasphemous act–ultimately following her own path of enlightenment to explosive consequences. When I finished The Not Yet, I couldn’t help imagining someone coming across this novel hundreds of years from now; this future reader, like Malcolm, might marvel at the how much has changed, and how perilously we ignored the warning signs.

Purchase THE NOT YET.

Visit Moira Crone’s website to learn more about her work. Read a Q&A with the author here.