This month’s selection of recently received new contemporary fiction promises to have something for all readers. From Victorian England to labour camps in China, from Germany to the Republic of Georgia, Newfoundland, Canada to San Francisco, the choice of this fiction is as exciting as the stories told.
Sweetland / Michael Crummey.
“For twelve generations, the inhabitants of a remote island in Newfoundland have lived and died together. Now, in the second decade of the 21st century, they are facing resettlement. They have each been offered a generous compensation package to leave the island for good. There’s just one proviso: everyone must go. Gradually, all of the residents surrender to the inevitable. All of the residents, that is, but one: old Moses Sweetland. Motivated in part by a sense of history and belonging, and concerned that his somewhat eccentric great-nephew will wilt on the mainland, Moses resists the coercion of family and friends in order to hold onto the only place he’s ever called home. As his options dwindle, Moses Sweetland concocts a scheme to remain the island’s only living resident.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Sophie and the Sibyl : a Victorian romance / Patricia Duncker.
“Berlin, September 1872. The Duncker brothers, Max and Wolfgang, own a thriving publishing business in the city. Clever, irresponsible Max is as fond of gambling and brothels as the older, wiser, Wolfgang is of making a profit. When Max’s bad habits get out of hand, Wolfgang sends him to the Spa town of Homburg, to dance attendance upon a celebrity author, the enigmatic Sibyl, also known as George Eliot. Enthralling and intelligent, she soon has Max bewitched. Yet Wolfgang has an ulterior motive: he wants his brother to consider Sophie von Hahn, daughter of a wealthy family friend, as a potential wife. At first, Max is lured by Sophie’s beauty and his affectionate memories of their shared childhood. But Sophie proves to be nothing like the vision of angelic domesticity Max was expecting.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The fixer : a novel / Joseph Finder.
“When former investigative reporter Rick Hoffman loses his job, fiancée, and apartment, his only option is to move back into, and renovate, the home of his miserable youth, now empty and in decay since the stroke that put his father in a nursing home. As Rick starts to pull apart the old house, he makes an electrifying discovery, millions of dollars hidden in the walls. It’s enough money to completely transform Rick’s life and everything he thought he knew about his father. Yet the more of his father’s hidden past that Rick brings to light, the more dangerous his present becomes.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The museum of things left behind / Seni Glaister.
“As part of Lizzie Holmesworth’s Duke of Edinburgh gold program, she visits Vallerosa, a secluded inland country, cut off from the rest of Europe except by a single railway track. Due to a simple misunderstanding she is mistaken for a member of the British royal family and, as a result, is allowed into the lives and hearts of the Vallerosan people. This young girl’s interactions with its people begin to heal a dysfunctional nation, and bring great changes to many of the country’s inhabitants, not least their ruler.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The four books / Yan Lianke ; translated from the Chinese by Carlos Rojas.
“In the ninety-ninth district of a sprawling reeducation compound, freethinking artists and academics are detained to strengthen their loyalty to Communist ideologies. Here, the Musician and her lover, the Scholar, along with the Author and the Theologian, are forced to carry out grueling physical work and are encouraged to inform on each other for dissident behavior. The prize: winning the chance at freedom. They’re overseen by preadolescent supervisor, the Child, who delights in reward systems and excessive punishments. When agricultural and industrial production quotas are raised to an unattainable level, the ninety-ninth district dissolves into lawlessness. And then, as inclement weather and famine set in, they are abandoned by the regime and left alone to survive.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Tightrope / Simon Mawer.
“Marian Sutro has survived Ravensbruck and is back in dreary 1950s London trying to pick up the pieces of her pre-war life. Returned to an England she barely knows and a post-war world she doesn’t understand Marian searches for something on which to ground the rest of her life. Family and friends surround her and a young RAF officer attempts to bring her the normality’s of love and affection but she is haunted by her experiences and by the guilt of knowing that her contribution to the war effort helped lead to the development of the Atom Bomb. When a mysterious Russian diplomat emerges from the shadows to draw her into the ambiguities and uncertainties of the Cold War she sees a way to make amends for the past and to renew the excitement of her double life.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Waiting for the electricity : a novel / Christina Nichol.
“In the republic of Georgia, the Communists are long gone, replaced by something much more confusing.There are no jobs in the cities, and when there are jobs, employees aren’t compensated. And when they are compensated, it’s because the jobs are not strictly scrupulous. When Slims discovers an application for an American small business internship programme sponsored by Hillary Clinton, he knows that he has found his calling. Slims’ dreams of bringing opportunity and the American dream to his homeland, even as his friends and relatives embrace decadence and a staggering array of unsavoury business practices. But when he finally gets to America he sees what reform and progress look like up close, suddenly, his loud, bickering family and his anguished, joyful country no longer seem so grim.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Invasion of Privacy / Christopher Reich
“On a remote, dusty road forty miles outside of Austin, Texas, FBI agent Joe Grant and a confidential informant are killed in a deadly shootout. Left to pick up the pieces is Mary Grant, Joe’s young wife and mother of their two daughters. The official report places blame for the deaths on Joe’s shoulders, but the story just doesn’t add up and Mary has too many troubling questions that need answers. How did Joe’s final voice mail, containing a cryptic warning for Mary, recorded moments before the fatal shooting, disappear without a trace from her phone? Stonewalled by the FBI, Mary will be drawn into a deadly conspiracy that puts her in the crosshairs of the richest and most powerful men in America and the newest and most terrifying surveillance system known to man.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Boo : a novel / Neil Smith.
“It is the first week of school in 1979, and Oliver “Boo” Dalrymple,ghostly pale eighth grader; aspiring scientist; social pariah,is standing next to his locker, reciting the periodic table. The next thing he knows, he finds himself lying in a strange bed in a strange land. He is a new resident of a place called Town, an afterlife exclusively for thirteen-year-olds. Soon Boo is joined by Johnny Henzel, a fellow classmate, who brings with him a piece of surprising news about the circumstances of the boys’ deaths. To Boo’s great surprise, the qualities that made him an outcast at home win him friends; and he finds himself capable of a joy he has never experienced. But there is a darker side to life after death and as Boo and Johnny attempt to learn what happened that fateful day, they discover a disturbing truth that will have profound repercussions for both of them.” (Adapted from Syndetics sunmmary)
Ostland / David Thomas.
“In wartime Berlin the brilliant, idealistic young detective Georg Heuser joins the Murder Squad in the midst of the biggest manhunt the city has ever seen. A killer is slaughtering women on S-Bahn trains and leaving their battered bodies by the tracks. Heuser must confront evil eye-to-eye to track down the murderer. Soon after the case is solved, with the winds of world war stirring, Heuser is promoted by the SS and ultimately sent off to oversee the systematic murder of tens of thousands of Jews in the conquered region to the east the Nazis call Ostland . Nearly twenty years after the end of the war Heuser thinks his diabolical past has been forgotten, but an enterprising young lawyer, Paula Siebert, searching through Soviet archives, discovers evidence of Heuser’s wartime crimes. Siebert is haunted by one question: how could a once decent man have become a sadistic monster?” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)