(The Morgan Library – Photo by Jason Schott)
There are three new novels that are perfect for the new year and the winter’s cold nights meant for curling up with a book: Scrublands by Chris Hammer, Freefall by Jessica Barry, and The Last Of The Stanfields by Marc Levy.
By Chris Hammer
Touchstone; hardcover, $26.00; available Tuesday, January 8
This searing debut novel from award-winning journalist Chris Hammer focuses on the chain of events that tears through a drought-ridden town like wildfire when a priest commits a devastating last act.
This gripping and utterly transporting page-turner is very reminiscent of The Dry and Before the Fall, and it brings to light a small town’s dark secrets, with writing that is every bit as fierce as the scorched Australian backdrop where it is set.
As the protagonist investigates the dry, fire-ridden areas of this rural town, the setting and cast of characters feels familiar, from the dusty abandoned shops to the beautiful and conflicted single mom running the local bookstore/cafe, to the old alcoholic bum with a heart of gold, and the bikers running a drug ring in the tumbleweed-filled outskirts of the Scrublands.
One year after the incident that brought the world’s attention to Riversend, journalist Martin Scarsden arrives in this dying town, chased by his own demons from years as a war reporter. His assignment is simple enough, to describe how the townspeople are coping as the anniversary of their tragedy approaches.
As Martin meets the locals and hears their version of the horrific events, he begins to realize that the accepted story, which is that the priest was a pedophile whose imminent exposure was the catalyst for his actions, which was revealed in an award-winning investigation by his newspaper; may be wrong.
Martin is intent on proving that he hasn’t lost his reporter’s edge after a near-death experience, and he sets out to uncover the truth. A dramatic new development rocks the town just as he believes he is making headway with his investigation. The scandal, with its speculation of a relation to the church shooting, becomes the biggest news story in Australia.
As the media descends on the little town of Scrublands, Martin breaks the story, which spreads to newspapers and networks across the country, and he is right in the middle of a complex mystery he’s just beginning to understand.
Hughes’ masterful debut, Scrublands, will have readers on the edge of their seats as its haunting, lyrical prose explores the lingering effects of trauma, grief, and guilt, and the meaning of survival.
By Jessica Barry
Harper; hardcover, $27.99; available Tuesday, January 8
The first thriller of 2019 is a high-octane, character-driven spellbinder, a gripping tale of a private plane crash, a young woman’s tenacious fight for survival and a mother’s unstoppable quest to discover her daughter’s fate.
The debut work for Jessica Barry is an irresistible page-turner that is also a thoughtful meditation on grief, deception, betrayal, the transactional nature of female beauty, and the lengths we will go for those we love.
Allison Carpenter is the only survivor when her fiance’s luxury aircraft goes down in the Colorado Rockies, but the danger is far from over. Allison cannot afford to reflect on the events that brought her to this moment or to wait for rescue, not if she intends to stay alive.
Injured, afraid, and in possession of dangerous secrets, she must navigate the harsh terrain to evade the murderous adversaries who want her dead.
At her Maine home, widowed Maggie Carpenter receives devastating news about the loss of her daughter, Allison, whom everyone presumes is dead. Maggie is haunted by guilt over having been estranged from her daughter for two years, and when looking at media reports, she is also shocked to see how different Allison looks, having been transformed from a pretty girl next door into a blond bombshell. Motivated by regret, Maggie sets out to find out more of what she doesn’t know about her daughter.
Freefall crisscrosses between Allison’s inescapable memories and Maggie’s tireless investigation. The alternating narratives cohere into a revealing portrait of desperation, reinvention, and ambition.
Barry says of the critical element in Freefall that she wanted to get just right, “The mother/daughter relationship is central, particularly the way we have to relearn that relationship when we’re older. As kids – and I think this is particularly true for mothers and daughters – it feels like we know our mothers inside out, and they know us in the same way, but that bond breaks down as we get older and has to be essentially relearned as adults. It’s not just the act of seeing each other as flawed human beings – it’s more letting go of your idea of who that person is (or who you thought they were, or who you thought they could be) and accepting the reality instead.”
Freefall‘s movie rights have been snapped up by Brad Weston at Makeready, the team behind the upcoming release, A Million Little Pieces, and an adaptation is in the works.
The Last Of The Stanfields
By Marc Levy & Translated by Daniel Wasserman
Amazon Crossing; hardcover, $24.95; ebook, $4.99
The Last Of The Stanfields is a compelling tale of mystery, love, and a search through a shadowy past.
International bestselling author Marc Levy, the most read contemporary French author in the world, tells the story of how two strangers unite in this novel of family secrets.
When London journalist Eleanor-Rigby Donovan receives an anonymous letter alluding to a crime committed by her deceased mother, her life is turned upside down. It points her to a bar on the Baltimore Harbor, where she finds a stranger who has received the same mysterious letter about his own mother.
Together, Eleanor-Rigby and this young man, George-Harrison Collins (yes, you can guess the inspiration for the protagonists’ names), embark on a quest through the shadowy past of the Stanfields, a moneyed Maryland family full of unimaginable secrets. These secrets will transport them back decades, across continents, and to a mysterious crime that has been long buried until now.