Durham and Asheville have roles in dystopian novel with murderous plot and deadly ticks

“The Salt Line” is the latest book from Holly Goddard Jones, who teaches creative writing at UNC Greensboro.
“The Salt Line” is the latest book from Holly Goddard Jones, who teaches creative writing at UNC Greensboro.

“The Salt Line,” by Holly Goddard Jones. Putnam, 400 pages.

So ticks are getting scary, right? I myself can’t eat beef or pork any more because of a tick bite, and that’s one of the more benign effects in the news lately. This dystopian novel hinges on society’s reaction to a new strain of “miner tick” whose bite can kill within hours. America has devolved into protected territories surrounded by vast swaths of no-man’s-land, but the worst of our modern-day civilization – income inequality, screen addiction – has survived the shift.

A group on an expensive thrill tour into the Appalachian forest is abducted and taken to a village as hostages, for reasons at first unclear to them.

Holly Goddard Jones, who lives in Greensboro and teaches creative writing at UNC Greensboro, sets her story in familiar territory. Durham, Lenoir, Asheville, Flat Rock, Charlotte – North Carolina readers will be able to visualize many of the landmarks mentioned, which is just the best kind of dystopia, don’t you agree?

“Best Day Ever,” by Kaira Rouda. Graydon House. 352 pages.

The “unreliable narrator” trend shows no signs of slowing down, so I should probably just list and rank each month’s crop. “Best Day Ever” really grabbed me. It follows a couple setting out from their perfect home in a wealthy suburb of Columbus, Ohio, for the “best day ever” at their lake house. The husband’s stream-of-consciousness narrative drops hints aplenty that this might not end up being his wife’s best day ever. Kaira Rouda has some fun with this and also clues in the reader that the wife is not totally oblivious, even while the husband rationalizes any behavior that doesn’t fit his best-day-ever scenario.

“Miss Kopp’s Midnight Confessions,” by Amy Stewart. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 384 pages.

I love this “Lady Cop” series about real-life deputy Constance Kopp. Here she takes on the mores of the time (1916) that allowed for “immorality” charges against young women who were too independent for their parents’ tastes.

“Keep Her Safe,” by Sophie Hannah. William Morrow, 352 pages.

A woman books a stay at a luxury resort to work through her feelings about an unplanned pregnancy, then gets involved in a high-profile missing child case. Sophie Hannah keeps the pace lively and even slightly over-the-top, lampooning sensational TV talk shows and spa culture.

“A Whispered Name,” by William Brodrick. Overlook, 352 pages.

Father Anselm’s background in law is needed again, as he leaves Larkwood Priory to look into a World War I court-martial that seems to have followed one of his mentors to the monastery. In the deluge of unreliable narrators, Father Anselm is a refreshing change: a moral and thoughtful narrator who embraces the monastic life.

“A Casualty of War,” by Charles Todd. William Morrow, 384 pages.

World War I nurse Bess Crawford unravels a war crime that has its roots in an English village. This series and Todd’s Ian Rutledge series both bring the First World War to life in all its mud and horror, but with generous doses of tea and nostalgia.