From chefs to spies, cowboys to war veterans, serial murders to investment bankers, this month’s selection of new Contemporary Fiction offers some great reading, and an amazing choice, no matter what your reading preference happens to be.
Night heron / Adam Brookes.
“In 1989, Li Huasheng (code name Peanut) was a promising Beijing engineer and the ringleader of a group of would-be defectors trading China’s technology secrets to the UK. But their operation aborted when Peanut was imprisoned in a labor camp after impulsively attacking a soldier during the Tiananmen Square protests. Two decades later, Peanut returns to Beijing, desperate to renew the deal with UK intelligence that he’s kept secret all these years. Peanut mistakes British journalist Philip Mangan for an undercover operative and approaches him with top-secret information. Mangan manages to get the proof documents to the embassy, and he’s immediately drafted into the world of espionage.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The bird skinner : a novel / Alice Greenway.
“Jim Kennoway, embittered and frequently drunk, has retreated to his house on the Maine coast, still recuperating from his recent leg amputation. Once a renowned ornithologist, he is brought ever lower by his painful memories: of his bloody stint in naval intelligence in the Solomon Islands; of his great love affair with his wife, Helen, which ended tragically; and of his youthful escapades exploring the forest, which marked him as odd but also gave him his life’s calling. Now he has been chosen to host the daughter of an islander who was once his scout. He only wants to be left alone, but the tall, beautiful young woman called Cadillac brings with her high spirits and a similar appreciation for their natural surroundings.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Tigerman / Nick Harkaway.
“Lester Ferris, sergeant of the British Army, is a good man in need of a rest. He’s spent a lot of his life being shot at, and Afghanistan was the last stop on his road to exhaustion. He has no family, he’s nearly forty and burned out and about to be retired. The island of Mancreu is the ideal place for Lester to serve out his time. It’s a former British colony in legal limbo, soon to be destroyed because of its very special version of toxic pollution, a down-at-heel, mildly larcenous backwater. Of course, that also makes Mancreu perfect for shady business, hence the Black Fleet of illicit ships lurking in the bay: listening stations, offshore hospitals, and money laundering operations, drug factories and deniable torture centres. None of which should be a problem, because Lester’s brief is to sit tight and turn a blind eye. But Lester Ferris has made a friend: a brilliant, Internet-addled street kid with a comic book fixation who will need a home when the island dies and who might, Lester hopes, become an adopted son. Now, as Mancreu’s small society tumbles into violence, the boy needs Lester to be more than just an observer.” (Adapted from Amazon.co.uk)
Mr. Mercedes : a novel / Stephen King.
“Retired Detective Bill Hodges is overweight, directionless, and toying with the idea of ending it all when he receives a jeering letter from the Mercedes Killer, who ran down 23 people with a stolen car but evaded Hodges’ capture. With the help of a 17-year-old neighbor and one victim’s sister, Hodges begins to play cat-and-mouse with the killer through a chat site called Under Debbie’s Blue Umbrella. Hodges’ POV alternates with that of the troubled murderer, a Norman Bates-like ice-cream-truck driver named Brady Hartfield. Both Hodges and Hartfield make mistakes, big ones.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The Last Kind Words Saloon : a novel / Larry McMurtry.
“This novel traces the rich and varied friendship of Wyatt Earp and Doc Holiday from the town of Long Grass to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in Denver, then to Mobetie, Texas, and finally to Tombstone, Arizona, culminating with the famed gunfight at the O.K. Corral.” (Adapted from Book cover)
All I have in this world : a novel / Michael Parker.
“Two strangers meet over the hood of a used car in Texas: Marcus, who is fleeing both his financial and personal failures; and Maria, who after years of dodging her mistakes has returned to her hometown to make amends. One looking forward, the other looking back, they face off over the car they both want and think they need: a low-slung sky-blue 1984 Buick Electra. The car, too, has seen its share of failures. Each dent and ripped seam represents a pivotal moment in the lives of others. After knowing each other for less than an hour, Marcus and Maria decide to buy the Buick together. As this surprising novel follows the rocky paths of the Electra and its owners, both past and present, these two strangers form an unexpected and ultimately resilient alliance.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
In the light of what we know / Zia Haider Rahman.
“An investment banker approaching forty, his career collapsing and his marriage unravelling, receives a surprise visitor at his West London town house. Confronting the dishevelled figure of a South Asian male carrying a backpack, the banker recognizes a long-lost college friend, a mathematics prodigy who disappeared many years earlier under mysterious circumstances. The friend has resurfaced with a confession of unsettling power.” (Adapted from Book cover)
The hunger and the howling of Killian Lone / Will Storr.
“Killian Lone comes from a long line of gifted cooks, stretching back to the 17th century, and yearns to become a famous chef himself. When he starts an apprenticeship under Max Mann, the most famous chef in London, he looks set to continue the family tradition. But the reality of kitchen life is brutal and relentless. Even his fellow apprentice, Kathryn, who shows Killian uncharacteristic kindness, can’t stop him being sucked into the debauched and vicious world of 1980s fine dining; and gradually he is forced to surrender his dream.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
The final testimony of Raphael Ignatius Phoenix / Paul Sussman.
“Raphael Ignatius Phoenix has had enough. Born at the beginning of the 20th century, he is determined to take his own life as the old millennium ends and the new one begins. But before he ends it all, he wants to get his affairs in order and put the record straight, and that includes making sense of his own long life, a life that spanned the century. He decides to write it all down and, eschewing the more usual method of pen and paper, begins to record his story on the walls of the isolated castle that is his final home. Beginning with a fateful first adventure with Emily, the childhood friend who would become his constant companion, Raphael remembers the multitude of experiences, the myriad encounters and, of course, the ten murders he committed along the way.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)
Chop chop / Simon Wroe.
“An outrageously funny and original debut set in the fast-paced and treacherous world of a restaurant kitchen. Fresh out of the university with big dreams, our narrator, is determined to escape his past and lead the literary life in London. But soon he is two months behind on rent for his depressing Camden Town bed-sit and forced to take a job doing grunt work in the kitchen of The Swan, a formerly grand restaurant that has lost its luster. Mockingly called ‘Monocle’ by his boisterous co-workers for a useless English lit degree, he is suddenly thrust into the unbelievably brutal, chaotic world of professional cooking and surrounded by a motley cast of co-workers for which no fancy education could have prepared him.” (Adapted from Syndetics summary)