BY NICO VREELAND
[This new feature is a brief monthly summary of new books on my radar, roughly in order of my personal interest in them.]
Oil On Water, by Helon Habila (out now)
A pair of journalists try to track down the kidnapped wife of an oil executive, and embark on a dangerous journey through the Nigerian river delta. They discover a country—not to mention scores of people—ruined by the no-holds-barred Nigerian oil industry. Civil wars, crimes against humanity, a political expose, and a suspenseful adventure “set in a haunting world of mangroves, floating villages, and jungle shrines” (PW)? Yes, please.
The Profession, by Steven Pressfield (out 6/14)
In 2032, dozens of private mercenary armies fight for anyone with money (especially oil companies). The most powerful group, a Blackwater-like global corporate army called Force Insertion, is led by a megalomaniacal ex-U.S. general with plans for vengeance that only his right-hand man can stop. Supposedly, Pressfield’s extensive research makes this thriller great.
Eleven, by Mark Watson (out now)
British comedian Watson’s third novel looks at a gaggle (roughly a dozen) of disparate characters tied together by cutesily self-monikered late-night radio DJ Xavier Ireland. When Ireland witnesses a “bullying incident,” the consequences unfold in a semi-postmodern narrative, but one that you won’t need a full semester and a PhD to unravel. This could be excellent or it could be terrible. Reviews say Watson’s not trying to be funny (ignore the flap copy); if all else fails, at least Steve Martin has the makings for a lawsuit.
The Beekeeper’s Lament, by Hannah Nordhaus (out now)
“Not the bees! Aaaaah!” Bees are weird, but, contrary to Mr. Cage’s embarrassing shrieking, they are also helpful. This book, the only nonfiction book on the radar this month, tells you about them and about the life of one of their caretakers, the charmingly eccentric John Miller, who reportedly steals the show.
Break the Skin, by Lee Martin (out 6/14)
Look at this cover and try not to gag. The only thing that can save it now is cold, hard logic. 1) Lee Martin was a finalist for the 2006 Pulitzer Prize. 2) In Break the Skin, two women are joined by a terrible crime. 3) One of those women is named Miss Baby. 4) Also featured: jealousy, deceit, revenge, suspense, amnesia, and a shocking climax.
Vaclav and Lena, by Haley Tanner (out now)
I was beyond psyched for this book a month ago, when I first read about it, but I’m not quite as excited now that it’s out there. Seems to be 98% romance and 2% mystery, and I prefer those figures reversed. The title characters are kids (literally—they’re ten) in love. They get mysteriously separated for seven years and then there’s a big twist. The novel’s success rides on Tanner’s voice, and whether that twist is more O. Henry or more Shyamalan.
State of Wonder, by Ann Patchett (out 6/7)
The latest by the author of Bel Canto follows a research scientist trying to track down her lost mentor in the Amazon, who disappeared while working on a valuable new drug. Once they connect, there’s intrigue, natives, poison arrows, moral quandaries, and more. (Basically, I’m a sucker for stories about dangerous journeys up foreign rivers.)
Embassytown, by China Mieville (out now)
Mieville’s ideas generally don’t stand up to even light scrutiny, but he does come up with some intriguing premises. In his latest, a mysterious alien civilization with a bizarre, hard-to-learn language (described as “empathic” and “in-the-present”) falls apart when the aliens learn how to lie. So, half crappy Ricky Gervais movie, and half fascinating New Yorker article? It’s a premise that lives or dies on its author’s linguistic talent—for the record, I don’t think Mieville has that talent, but it’s pretty lonely on that island—still, I’ll probably read the preview to see how it goes.