Set in a rendition prison in Poland, The Midnight House is former New York Times reporter Alex Berenson's fourth thriller featuring John Wells, a former Dartmouth football player who is the only spook ever to infiltrate al-Qaida. This time, Wells is called out of hibernation by the morally ambiguous Ellis Shafer — "George Smiley as played by Larry David," as Berenson describes him. "The Midnight House is more plausible and cleaner than much of its competition," writes former NPR Executive Editor Dick Meyer, though he warns of a formulaic plot and characters who are "almost interesting, but end up as caricatures." Still, he gives the book's ending high marks "for avoiding the pyrotechnics now demanded by most popular writing and film."
Reflecting on Vincent van Gogh's defining mix of genius and mental illness, biographers Steven Naifeh and Gregory White Smith describe the artist as "a wayward, battered soul: a stranger in the world ... an enemy to himself." Their account of his life, Van Gogh, has stirred up controversy by disputing the claim of most historians that the artist ended his life in a suicide. NPR critic Michael Schaub found their bold argument convincing, and says the authors also do a "brilliant job of following the Dutch painter's career." According to Schaub, "[T]he book remains an essential, beautifully written look at the man who saw things nobody else ever did — as he himself put it, the 'traveler going somewhere and to some destination ... [that] do not exist.' "
The past four decades are a lot funnier in the work of Calvin Trillin than they might be in your memory — or anywhere else. In The New Yorker, The Nation and his syndicated column, Trillin has written about food, politics, language and growing up Jewish in Kansas City. Those writings have been collected in an anthology called Quite Enough of Calvin Trillin: Forty Years of Funny Stuff. Trillin tells NPR's Robert Siegel that the terrorism, wars and economic decline of the past decade didn't make it harder for him to find humor. What did make it hard was losing his wife. "I hadn't realized how much — until I started putting this book together — how much of a character she was in all of this, and how I had written it, basically, to make her laugh."
Beth Raymer's memoir, Lay the Favorite, is about guys sitting in front of computer screens, placing bets, playing the odds and living it up. But it doesn't take place on Wall Street — it takes place in Las Vegas, Curacao, Costa Rica and the high-stakes world of sports betting. Not long out of college in Florida, Raymer tumbled into a world of men who made a livelihood out of their love of sports, their talent for math and, it seems, their inability or aversion to do anything other than what they do, which is sometimes legal and sometimes not. "If there's an addiction explored in my book, it's the addiction to living a life of endless possibility," Raymer tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "The title's kind of ironic, I guess, because it's saying invest yourself in the outcome that appears most certain, and I and the people in my book have an almost pathological aversion to certainty."
Charlotte Abbott edits "New in Paperback." A contributing editor for Publishers Weekly, she also leads a weekly chat on books and reading in the digital age every Friday from 4-5 p.m. ET on Twitter. Follow her at @charabbott or check out the #followreader hashtag.