Detroit Breakdown -- A Mystery by D.E. Johnson, Minotaur Books '12, $25.99, 322 pages, ASIN #1250006627.
As an automotive history buff myself, I can assert that while there are lots of nonfiction auto histories, the number of fictional histories involving the automobile is scant indeed. D.E. Johnson's third such is set in an insane asylum outside Detroit, and the two protagonists -- Will Anderson and Elizabeth Hume -- are called there to investigate a killing, performed with the infamous "Punjab lasso," the murder weapon used by the Phantom of the Opera. In a brief Q&A, the author discusses the writing of his latest book:
Q. Why did you choose to set your novel in the Detroit of 100 years ago?
A. The United States we know today was created between 1890 and 1920 -- for better or for worse. I'm fascinated by the similarities between the issues that faced Americans at the time and what we deal with today. With the exception of some technology, most people could quickly become comfortable trading places with an American of 100 years ago -- that is, someone from the privileged 1% or possibly the nearly as small middle class....The wealthy were fabulously wealthy, and the poor were devastatingly poor. America in 1912 was a cauldron threatening to boil over (and when better to set a book?)
Q. What did you enjoy most about writing this novel?
A. Definitely the challenge of writing Elizabeth's voice. Will comes pretty natural for me (which should tell you a lot about my character), but I've never written a female narrator before this. My editor at St. Martin's, Daniela Rapp, was skeptical about my chances of pulling it off, but she was thrilled with the final result.
D.E. Johnson, a graduate of Central Michigan University, is a history buff who has been writing fiction since childhood and has written two previous books on the automotive history. His grandfather was the vice president of Checker Motors.
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville, Grove Press '12, $25, 307 pages, ASIN #0802120245.
From the book jacket:
"When The Secret River -- a novel about frontier violence in early Australia -- appeared in 2005, it became an instant best seller and garnered praise for its unflinching look at Australia's notorious history. Grenville's follow-up novel, The Lieutenant, continued her exploration of Australia's first settlement and again elicited controversy for its brazen view of her homeland's beginnings. Now in the explosive final book of her acclaimed trilogy, Grenville returns to the Thornhills and one daughter's quest to uncover, at her peril, the family's hidden legacy.
"Sarah is the youngest daughter of William Thornhill, the pioneer at the center of The Secret River. Unknown to Sarah, her father -- an ex-con from London -- has built his fortune on the blood of Aboriginal people. With a fine stone house and plenty of money, Thornhill is a man who has reinvented himself. As he tells his daughter, he 'never looks back,' and Sarah grows up learning not to ask about the past. Instead, her eyes are on handsome Jack Langland, whom she's loved since she was a child. Their romance seems idyllic, but the ugly secret in Sarah's family is poised to ambush them both.
Kate Grenville has written eight novels, four non-fiction works, and a volume of short stories. She won the Commonwealth Writers' Prize and was short-listed for the Man Booker Prize.
The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair, HMH '12, $24, 244 pages, ASIN #0547731604.
Indian Tabish Khair has written a "subversive, macabre" novel of a young Indian man's misadventures in Victorian London as the city is racked by a series of murders. "Ranging from skull-lined mansions to underground tunnels a ghostly people call home," writes the author, "The Thing About Thugs is a feat of imagination to rival Wilkie Collns or Michael Chabon." In a brief Q&A, he discusses the writing of his new book:
Q. What was the "Thuggee" cult?
A. "Thuggee" is a term that refers to a violent cult that murdered and robbed travellers on Indian highways in the mid-19th century. At the time the British had never seen such violent and systematized thievery.
Q. A wealthy British man who collects human skulls is at the center of the novel. Did this type of barbaric character actually exist?
A. There were in fact recorded cases of people being killed so that their bodies could be sold for dissection to surgeons and medical schools. This character is like those, with a slight twist.
Tabish Khair is an award-winning poet, journalist, critic, eductor, and novelist, who lives in Denmark and teaches literature at Aarhus University.