“The Last Equation of Isaac Severy” by Nova Jacobs. Touchstone, 352 pages.
The Severy family would fit right into one of Wes Anderson’s eccentric comedies. There is a genius for math in their DNA, and even the adopted offspring who don’t share it are drawn into the intrigue surrounding the formula Isaac Severy was working on at the time of his grisly death (Christmas lights in the bathtub). He hid the formula to keep the government and the military from getting hold of it, and their insistent agents are still after it. While those agents follow and try to recruit the children and grandchildren, Nova Jacobs gives us a portrait of family function and dysfunction that will be familiar even to those of us without fatal genius in our genes.
“Tangerine” by Christine Mangan. HarperCollins, 320 pages.
Tangerine is making a lot of top 10 lists for March releases. It’s a Patricia Highsmith-flavored story set in the 1950s, a more socially claustrophobic time for women. Alice, stuck in an unhappy marriage in a foreign city, is amazed to find her college roommate Lucy on her doorstep in Morocco – the more amazed because of the sinister circumstances that parted them in college. Lucy is very much a female answer to Highsmith’s Ripley, longing to leave behind her blue-collar upbringing and enter the ranks of the rich, and casually heedless of the morality of her methods. If you’re a Ripley fan (I am), you have a treat in store.
“The Hunger” by Alma Katsu. Putnam, 384 pages.
I don’t normally go for Westerns or cannibalism, but I had an ancestor who was part of the wagon train that split from the Donner party before their fateful shortcut, so I couldn’t resist a peek at this retelling of the macabre story. Alma Katsu re-creates the personalities and back stories in a creditable example of the “frontier diary” genre, and then throws in an occult explanation for the expedition’s bloody outcome.
“The Broken Girls” by Simone St. James. Berkley, 336 pages.
Even though it centers on a grim New England boarding school for unwanted girls and its resident wraith, “The Broken Girls” has the feel of a cozy. There’s romance, and a ghost story, and a fundamental decency in many of the characters, especially schoolgirls exiled from their families for such crimes as depression and defiance. Down the years students have jotted notes in their textbook margins of sightings of Mary Hand, a veiled figure in black.
Reporter Fiona Sheridan is obsessed with her sister’s murder 20 years ago on the grounds of the abandoned school. When another body turns up during renovations it leads her, finally, to answers.
“The Policeman’s Daughter” by Trudy Nan Boyce. Putnam, 352 pages.
The origin story for Trudy Nan Boyce’s series character Sarah Alt makes me want to find the first two books and see what I’ve been missing. “Salt,” Sarah’s street name as a beat cop in the Atlanta projects, sees humanity where others only see crime statistics waiting to happen. She puts herself in harm’s way to solve a murder everyone else chalks up to the casual brutality of street life. It’s a police procedural with so much heart.
“This is How it Ends” by Eva Dolan. Bloomsbury, 336 pages.
Two activists leave a dead body in the elevator shaft of a London building slated for demolition to make way for luxury condos. The longer it lies there undiscovered, the more doubts the two women have about each other. We see the leadup to the fateful night in flashbacks as we watch their relationship deteriorate in the aftermath.