Book Notes 2016.4

More remarks on recent reading, from ’60s science fiction to contemporary flash and crime thrillers.

Philip K Dick, The Penultimate Truth (First Mariner, 2011 [1964]). This is the grand master of sci-fi’s first novel, but by my reading it is a little labored and rather slow-moving. Yet one can see how themes of post-apocalyptic resistance, deception, and official lying—as well as the references to 20th century German history—resonated in the moment the book appeared.

Ausma Zehanat Khan, The Unquiet Dead (Minotaur, 2014). The story has a fascinating premise—a death from an apparent accident turns out to be related to the Srebenica massacre of 1995—but it takes too long to shift into gear and the storytelling at times suffers from too abundant historical detail. Neither well-paced nor able to handle the various layers of complexity it creates, this novel was disappointing, though I tried very much to like it.

Jo Nesbø, The Bat (Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 2013 [1997]). This, the first of the successful Inspector Harry Hole novels, is as formulaic as crime fiction can be. There are better Scandinavian practitioners of the craft, including Karin Fossum, Arnaldur Indriđason, and of course the late Henning Mankell.

Yelizaveta P. Renfro, A Catalogue of Everything in the World: Nebraska Stories (Black Lawrence Press, 2010). I love these edgy, poignant, and connected stories with characters odd enough to puzzle but also engaging enough to care for.

Ruth Ware, The Woman in Cabin 10 (Scout, 2016). Economical narration, an engaging and rather knotted main character, good pacing, and an effective setting—all make this an enjoyable read and make me want to read the author’s previous crime thriller, In a Dark, Dark Wood.

Joy Williams, 99 Stories Of God (Tin House Books, 2016). A brilliant and characteristically quirky set of flash fictions and philosophical anecdotes that stick with you long after the brief time they take to read. Williams is unparalleled in her mastery of the short form.