The Best New Fiction of August 2019

Historical fiction fans have hit the jackpot this month. Two Cold War-era novels, a new series by Preston & Child centered on the infamous Donner Party, and fresh offerings from historical masters Philippa Gregory and Mary Doria Russell await you. If that’s not enough, Lisbeth Salander is back in her sixth outing, and Eddie Flynn takes on a serial killer serving on the jury of his own crime.

The Inn, by James Patterson and Candice Fox
Aussie author Candice Fox usually joins forces with James Patterson for their Oz-set Detective Harriet Blue series, but this time, the duo sets the action in a quiet town outside Boston. Former Beantown homicide detective and widow Billy Robinson runs the beloved Gloucester Inn, a long-term rental full of unconventional guests who have slowly become a family. The arrival of cocksure, violent criminal Mitchell Cline threatens the peace, forcing the denizens of the Inn to take a stand before everything they hold dear is destroyed.

Old Bones, by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child
Archaeologist Nora Kelly (who appears in previous Preston and Child books) headlines her own brand-new series, which kicks off with a chilling look at the infamous Donner Party. Everyone knows the lengths that group they went to for survival in the mid-1800s, but is there more to the story? When historian Clive Benton approaches Kelly about a diary he believes will shed light on a rumored third, lost camp of the Donner Party, a centuries’-old cold case gets jumpstarted. With FBI Special Agent Corinne Swanson beside her, Kelly leads an excavation that proves extremely perilous, from storms and avalanches to foul play dictated by greed.

Tidelands, by Philippa Gregory
A master of English historical fiction, usually featuring the fraught lives of noblewomen in the Tudor period (The Other Boleyn Girl and many more), Gregory turns her focus on a non-royal this time. Destitute Alinor lives in the coastal, secluded Tidelands, married to an abuser and struggling to survive amid the turmoil of civil war. On Midsummer’s Eve of 1648, she stands in the graveyard waiting for a ghost to assist her in escaping her husband. When her lamentations beneath the full moon seem to have paid off, the other villagers turn against her, convinced that even if she’s not a witch, her differences (ambition, sudden wealth) mark her as something to be stamped out.

First Cosmic Velocity, by Zach Powers
Short story writer Powers’s debut novel will intrigue fans of The Prestige with its use of twins. It’s 1964, and the Chief Designer of the Soviet space program has a big problem. The capsules he’s launched into orbit are impossible to retrieve, and his cosmonauts have never actually returned; he’s relied on twins to fool the world into thinking his missions are successful. One such twin, Leonid, and his brother (also called Leonid), are the final twins left. One will be launched into space to die, and the other will continue the ruse on earth, pretending to the press that he has come back.  But now Premier Khrushchev wants in on the action, and the Chief Designer’s ruse is about to come crashing down in spectacular fashion if he can’t build a working spacecraft in time to send Khrushchev’s dog to perform the first canine launch.

The Girl Who Lived Twice, by David Lagercrantz
Book six in the Millenium Series (following the original trilogy created by Stieg Larsson), continues in Lagercrantz’s talented hands and finds the iconic Lisbeth Salander fully off the grid. If that sounds impossible to imagine (what’s a hacker with nothing to hack?) her friend Mikael Blomkvist agrees, and he’s eager to locate her. A dead man with Blomkvist’s contact info in his pocket apparently held secrets worth killing over, and Salander is closer than ever to confronting her sociopathic twin, Camilla. Prepare to lose sleep over this one!

Thirteen: The Serial Killer Isn’t on Trial. He’s on the Jury., by Steve Cavanagh
If the full title of this staggeringly original and terrifying book doesn’t hook you, I don’t know what will. In book three of the Eddie Flynn series, about a con artist-turned-defense attorney who has battled the Russian mob and lived to tell about it, Flynn takes on a high-profile murder case. He doesn’t yet know the real killer, Joshua Kane, has finagled a spot on the jury and intends to frame Eddie’s client for the crime. Worse, Kane is bumping off his fellow jurors when he senses they won’t vote his way.

The Women of the Copper Country, by Mary Doria Russell
In her previous historical novels, Doc and Epitaph, Russell depicted the relationship between professional gambler Doc Holliday and western folk hero Wyatt Earp. With Women, the author sets her sights on a copper-mine town in Michigan in the early 1900s, as viewed through the lens of a woman few remember: Annie Clements, “America’s Joan of Arc.” The wife of a miner, Annie has had enough of the horrific working conditions suffered by her husband, Joe, and the husbands of her friends. Ironically, Joe has never joined the union, and he bristles at Annie’s independent streak, but Annie’s not about to let that stop her from calling for a strike and standing up against unfettered capitalism.

A Door in the Earth, by Amy Waldman
As a former Afghanistan correspondent for the New York Times, critically acclaimed author Waldman (The Submission) is the perfect person to tell this story of tragic misperceptions set in an Afghani village. A book-within-a-book sets the stage for what’s to come: Dr. Gideon Crane’s selectively positive memoir inspires Berkeley graduate Parveen Shamsa to join Crane’s foundation and discover her roots in her family’s homeland, but what she discovers in the village of Crane’s book is that Crane’s account is not the whole story of American interventionism, and in fact continues to incite worse and worse consequences.

The Darwin Strain, by Bill Schutt and J. R. Finch
In their third adventure, R.J. MacCready, Yanni Thorne and special guest-star Jacques Cousteau (yep, the real-life explorer), take on mythological Kraken, a volcanic hot spring with alleged healing properties hidden beneath a remote Greek island, and a simmering tension with the Russians. The early days of the Cold War form the backdrop of this thrilling tale, which also includes aliens, religious infighting, and a fascinating look at the effects of biology-gone-wrong.

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