CSA Images/Mod Art Collection/Getty Images
CSA Images/Mod Art Collection/Getty Images
If reading more in 2017 was one of your new year's resolutions, Nancy Pearl is here to help. Every once in a while, the Seattle-based librarian sends host Steve Inskeep a big stack of books. They're generally "under-the-radar" reads — titles she thinks deserve more attention than they've been getting.
This year, the stack includes breathtaking thrillers, a multi-generational crime story, an unforgettable family tale, and more. Pearl tells Inskeep why she loves these novels, and why she thinks you will, too.
These recommendations have been edited for clarity and length.
This is a start of a series and — unlike some series of thrillers or mysteries — each book is better than the one before. But you need to start with the first one, which is Slow Horses. "Slow horses" are disgraced MI5 agents, British intelligence agents — people who did something a little stupid but have too many connections to be fired. What River Cartwright did is badly screw up a surveillance assignment. (He's convinced he was set up by his rival.)
Now, the slow horses have a new task: A kidnapping and a potential beheading has been announced in London and it's up to the slow horses to try to figure out what's going on.
I love the characters in this. The guy who is the head of the slow horses is this man who is the most thoroughly disagreeable person that many people will ever read about. I read an interview with Mick Herron where he said he just thought of the worst thing that anybody could say in every situation — and that's what River's boss said. It's just great fun.
This is one of my all-time favorite novels. It was published originally in 2005. More people need to read this remarkable Pakistani author. This is a novel that really brings to life that phrase: "The political is personal and the personal is political."
It's the story of a 30-year-old Pakistani woman whose mother was a leader in the women's movement in Pakistan in the '70s and '80s. And her (kind-of) stepfather, her mother's lover, was the great poet of Pakistan who angered the government with his poetry. The government tortured and killed "The Poet," as he was known.
When Aasmaani — the young woman — was 16 her mother disappeared. No one knows what becomes of the mother. Then Aasmaani receives a letter written in the code that only the poet and her mother knew. That raises all of these questions. Is the poet alive?
It's a love story; it's about mothers and daughters; it's a tribute to a Pakistan that might have been had things gone differently.
Becky Masterman is an author I recently discovered. What I love about these books is that they're page-turners, they're really thrilling novels. The main character is a woman named Brigid Quinn, who is a former FBI agent now retired. Brigid is 60. I love that. When have we last seen the hero of a thriller age 60?
But when Brigid was in the FBI, she was mostly assigned cases where she had to go undercover. So all of her working life, she has had to be somebody other than herself. And now she's retired and married for the first time and trying to figure out what it's like to be her[self] and not somebody else.
Then, a case very similar to some of the cases that she worked on when she was in the FBI kind of falls into her lap. So the present and the past are coming together in this page-turning thriller.
This is the first novel I've read by [Duane Swierczynski] and as soon as I finished it I went back and read three more by him. [It's] very fast-moving. This is a story of three generations of a Philadelphia family, the Walczaks. The book moves between three time periods: 1965, 1995 and 2015.
In 1965, the grandfather, Stan, is a Philadelphia policeman; his partner is one of the few black officers in Philadelphia. Both of them are gunned down as they're sitting in a bar, talking. Stan's son Jimmy becomes a policeman and he is always in the shadow of his father. He's investigating the rape and murder of a young woman. And then Jimmy's daughter, a ne'r-do-well, is studying forensics and she's doing a class project on her grandfather's death.
So we're moving between these three time periods. We're exploring these two different crimes — the one that Jimmy's investigating and the one that Stan is investigating. This [book] illuminates race relations in the '60s in Philadelphia [and] in the country at large.
This is set in a fictional African country, Bwalo. Every year the esteemed leader shows himself, drives in a motorcade down the main street. But something is going to be different about this day. The story is told most interestingly from the point of view of several different characters: A 10-year-old boy named Charlie who has just been given a dictaphone and goes around interviewing people; an Irish journalist; the nurse of Bwalo's dictator leader; and [the nurse's] ex-husband, who was one of the men who made the leader of Bwalo into the man that he is.
There's a wonderful line about what it's like to be a white African — the Irish journalist says, "I wasn't built to survive anywhere else. I knew now that a long stint in Africa prepared you for only one thing: a longer stint in Africa."
This book came out in 2015 and was a finalist for the National Book Award. [It's] set on the east side of Detroit — I grew up in the northwest part of Detroit. It covers the Turner family from the 1940s to the 2000s. It's the story of a family, yes, but it's also the story of a city.
African-Americans [came] up from the South, as the Turner family did, to work in the auto industry. The book is a wonderful character study. There are 13 children, the mother is still alive. You get to know all of these people; you get to see their lives [unfolding] across a dying city. It was very close to my heart and the writing is absolutely wonderful.
It's a great achievement. It certainly got attention from a particular group of readers. But I think there are many more people who would find this book — people who love character-driven fiction — very, very enjoyable.