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A Thriller in Vermont and a Camera Floating in the Ocean

Welcome back, fellow bookworms. According to my research — and if any entomologists are reading, please sound off in the comments with corrections — “worm” might be a less appropriate term for a paper-eating critter than silverfish, biscuit beetle or even cockroach. From now on, I will personally be identifying as a bookroach. Let’s munch.


Winter is the perfect season during which to grind your teeth into a snowy powder as you tear through a menacing thriller set in rural Vermont. Kay is a former war correspondent who retreats to a small town with her children to chill out. The house she rents is fringed with maples and sits on acres of forest; it has poor cellphone service (warning sign No. 1) and a hidden crawl space in one of the bathrooms (warning sign No. 2).

Gradually it becomes clear that an act of unspeakable violence has occurred inside the house — and Kay, being a journalist, proceeds to annoy everyone in the small town by trying to solve the mystery. This causes her to intersect with the novel’s second protagonist, Ben, a recovering junkie trying to regain moral agency in a world that seems precision-designed to strip him of it. Other topics covered include drug trafficking, adultery and logging. The prose is so dark it’s practically burnt!

Read if you like: Stephen King’s “Misery,” cabins, 7-11 hot dogs, Patricia Highsmith

Available from: Two Dollar Radio

Translated by Daniel Hahn. Fiction, 2020

When I received the copy of this book that I’d bought on eBay, I noticed it smelled strongly of stale cigarettes. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it smelled like fresh cigarettes, which is an odor I enjoy, but stale cigarettes are a separate category — they remind me of warm Sprite, doors that almost but don’t fully close and other unsettling things. I persisted because I loved one of the author’s previous novels so much that the idea of skipping this one, smelly though it was, was inconceivable.

Here we have the tale of a 55-year-old Angolan journalist who goes for a swim in the ocean and finds a camera floating in the water. When he gets the film developed, he discovers that the camera belongs to a Mozambican artist who stages and photographs her own dreams. He tracks her down. They discuss orchids and death. Intrigue ensues. Agualusa’s prose, as translated by Daniel Hahn from the Portuguese, is wry and lucid and weird. I can’t think of any precise analogues, but if you like Roberto Bolaño I am 75 percent sure you will like Agualusa.

The author was born in Angola and studied agronomy and silviculture in Portugal; last I checked he was living on the Island of Mozambique. I initially came to his work by — and this is no joke — repeatedly hitting the “Random article” button on Wikipedia and eventually landing on his page. (The “Random article” button is a great way to pass time, by the way.) “With a bio like that, what could go wrong?” I thought to myself, and the answer turned out to be: nothing.

Read if you like: Roberto Bolaño, the films of Yorgos Lanthimos, Phil Klay, traveling alone, the simulation hypothesis

Available from: Archipelago Books

  • Delve into The Bookshop” if you enjoy British humor so dry it practically REQUIRES LOTION?

  • Take a break from reading (just for two hours) and track down “The Last of Sheila” — a movie that Stephen Sondheim co-wrote with Anthony Perkins? It’s a DIABOLICAL MYSTERY from 1973 that takes place on a YACHT and stars James Mason. Now those are some tasty movie ingredients. Plus, it’s a wonderful way to celebrate the recently departed Sondheim — may his memory be a blessing!

  • Shudder at the true account of a French anthropologist who was ATTACKED BY A BEAR on the ICY SLOPES of a Siberian volcano?

  • Drape yourself across a chaise with a tale of suspense set in the CATSKILLS?

Plunge further into books at The New York Times

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