Reviews of the Week with Joyce Carol Oates, Deb Caletti, S. A. Cosby, and More!

Every weekday, we feature a different review on Booklist Online. These reviews are notable for different reasons—they may be starred, in high demand, or especially relevant to the current issue’s spotlight.

Time for intrigue, thrills, and exciting twists as we shine our issue spotlight on crime and mystery fiction with this week’s #ReviewsOfTheWeek. Booklist wishes you all well.


Monday, April 27

Night. Sleep. Death. The Stars. by Joyce Carol Oates

Ever the Good Samaritan, John Earle “Whitey” McClaren pulls his car to the side of the expressway outside his hometown of Hammond, New York, when he witnesses police officers using excessive force on a Black man. A former mayor who assumes he still has some clout in civic affairs, Whitey believe his presence will deescalate the situation. Instead, the cops turn their Tasers and steel-toed boots on Whitey, leaving him writhing on the ground. It’s an attack a younger man would have trouble surviving, but at 67, it’s more than Whitey can withstand. He succumbs to his injuries, ones his family has been told he suffered from a stroke while driving.

Tuesday, April 28

Girl, Unframed, by Deb Caletti

Caletti is at the top of her game in this fully dimensional mystery. As college student Sydney Reilly unfolds the story of her sixteenth summer in a San Francisco mansion with her movie-star mother, Lila Shore, what begins as a beautifully described moment of sexual awakening takes on Syd’s growing feminism and refusal to be anyone’s object. Chapter headings hint at the main event by listing exhibits from what we begin to realize is a murder trial. Raised by her maternal grandmother, Edwina, while her mother struggles to revive her flagging career, Syd is reluctant to leave her comfortable life in Seattle and spend the summer with egocentric, childlike Lila—especially with Lila’s new boyfriend, shady art dealer Jake, living with them as well. Jake is alternately jealous of Syd’s presence and uncomfortably attentive, judging her clothing, her activities, and especially her new boyfriend, Nicco.

Wednesday, April 29

The Distant Dead, by Heather Young

This second stunning piece of redemptive fiction from the author of the Edgar-nominated The Lost Girls (2017) puts a young boy at the center of a murder mystery and surrounds him with adults grappling with stinging regrets, karmic debts, and unresolved guilt over the loved ones they have lost. Finely woven into the narrative is a profound consideration of the transience of life, as the contemporary characters are revealed in subtle contrast to the ancient peoples who shared their same small spot in Nevada’s Great Basin, later a wagon stop for settlers on their way to California that now accommodates the unsettled. The burned body of local math teacher Adam Merkel is found in the high desert hills by Sal Prentiss, a “misfit” sixth-grader who lives on a remote ranch with his uncles. Sal struggles under an incredible weight of secrets, which he carries around with an amazing, albeit oddly fantastical, perspicacity in an undernourished body.

Thursday, April 30

Blacktop Wasteland, by S. A. Cosby

Heist-novel fans are all-too familiar with the one-last-job premise, but Cosby trumps our expectations with a neat twist: the one-last-job that Beauregard “Bug” Montage, a Black wheelman turned garage owner, must take to keep his business going leads to one-more-last-job, and if the first one had fiasco written all over it, the next one has about as much chance of success as Evel Knievel jumping the Snake River Canyon. But Bug is no ordinary wheelman. Drawn by his father, also a legendary heist driver, both to fast cars and crime, Bug has been struggling all his life—especially after his father’s disappearance—between two visions of himself: either pulling off one high-ticket caper after another, or living the straight life with his wife and two boys. He thinks he’s put the fast lane behind him, but with a note due on his loan, he agrees to handle the driving on a jewelry-store job; unfortunately, the two goofs he’s in it with have targeted a store owned by a gangster. Hence, the necessity of another job, this time to get out of the gangster’s clutches.

Friday, May 1

All Eyes on Her, by L. E. Flynn

In August, Princeton swimmer Mark Forrester hiked up to a dangerous lookout point with his girlfriend, 17-year-old high-schooler Tabitha Cousins. Early the next morning, Tabby staggered out of the woods alone, claiming that Mark had slipped and fallen to his death; a team of police divers later found his body in the creek below. But everyone loved Mark, and Tabby isn’t the kind of girl people are inclined to believe. As the police start to investigate, they find holes in her story—holes that seem to indicate that, maybe, Mark was murdered—and suddenly everyone in town is talking. Short, furiously paced chapters rotate in perspective; everyone, it seems, gets a chance to speak, from people who are on Tabby’s side (her sister, her best friend, her ex) to those who are against her (her school nemesis, Mark’s best friend). Everyone, that is, except Tabby herself.

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About the Author:

Michael Ruzicka, Office Manager, was raised in suburban Los Angeles, received a BA in Creative Writing/Poetry at UC Santa Cruz, then moved to Birmingham, AL, where he spent five years owning an independent bookstore and earned an MLIS. He has brought his librarian skills to Vanderbilt’s Television News Archive, Battle Ground Academy, The Museum of Contemporary Art-Chicago, and the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Michael is very excited to be a part of Booklist and call Chicago his home.

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