Matthew Jackson

There are many pieces of fiction that attempt to capture and explore our collective fascination with true crime, but while those stories manage to convey at least some of the truths surrounding that obsession, few ever reach its emotional core. Katie Gutierrez’s debut novel, More Than You'll Ever Know, joins those select ranks, as this elegant, evocative tale of suspense burrows straight to the heart of our cultural true crime fixation through an intense emotional dance between two seemingly different women.

Cassie Bowman is a true crime blogger who dreams of more. After years of trafficking in the seediest corners of the genre, she wants to take her journalism prowess to new heights and prove that she has something to say about the ways people hurt each other. When she stumbles upon the story of Dolores “Lore” Rivera—a banker whose double life led to one of her husbands murdering the other in 1985—Cassie thinks she might have finally found a tale worth telling. When the two women finally meet, though, the tension between their personalities kicks off a series of conversations that reveals the truth about both of their pasts.

Told across two time periods set decades apart and narrated through both Cassie’s and Lore’s perspectives, More Than You'll Ever Know has all the ingredients necessary for a good thriller. Gutierrez writes with an instinctive understanding of the scaffolding necessary to keep readers turning the pages, and the narrative flies by as the dramatic and emotional tensions in both women’s lives ratchet up.

Beyond the novel’s well-executed, suspenseful structure, Gutierrez also clearly understands her characters, where they’ve come from and what they want and need. Both women are searching for something, longing for understanding in a world full of mysteries that are never solved. Whether it’s Lore’s emotional journey or Cassie’s deep dive into her chosen journalistic genre, Gutierrez has crafted detailed, vulnerable portraits of women searching for clues to their own survival. In the process, she unearths some truly compelling insights about our cultural obsession with true crime.

Katie Gutierrez’s debut novel burrows straight to the heart of our true crime fixation through an intense emotional dance between two seemingly different women.

The undeniable warmth that permeates Kim Michele Richardson’s fiction is rooted in a love for her home state of Kentucky, her characters and, it seems, the art of writing itself. Her narratives are immersive exercises in character development and world building that are wholly capable of enveloping readers, pulling us deeper with each page until we are happily lost.

The Book Woman’s Daughter, Richardson’s companion novel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek, does this from the very beginning, whether you’ve read the original novel or not. Through the eyes of Honey Lovett, daughter of legendary blue-skinned “Book Woman” Cussy Mary Carter, Richardson tells a rewarding story of determination and hope set in the Kentucky woods of a bygone era.

In 1953, Honey’s mother and father are imprisoned for miscegenation, and the 16-year-old girl is left to scrape by on her own, running from the law while attempting to build a life for herself with the few resources she has left. She and her trusty mule, Junia, take up Cussy’s former route as a packhorse librarian, and in doing so, Honey not only honors her mother’s legacy but also begins to carve a path for herself through a world that continually pushes women aside. Honey discovers that her community’s thirst for knowledge is vast, often dangerous and full of big questions she’d never expected to ask.

Throughout The Book Woman’s Daughter, Richardson pushes Honey forward into new states of evolution, desire, grit and spirit while constructing a beautiful vision of 1950s Appalachia in all its natural splendor and complicated humanity. Honey starts out as someone who knows where she belongs, but as she begins to encounter setbacks and challenges, her story transforms into a meditation on womanhood, literature, resilience and freedom. It’s a spellbinding tale.

Kim Michele Richardson’s companion novel to The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek is immersive from the very beginning.

As she has consistently proven in historical novels such as The Alice Network and The Rose Code, Kate Quinn is a master at crafting an intoxicating, well-balanced blend of immersive period details and deft character work. With The Diamond Eye, she returns to the fertile storytelling terrain of World War II for a tale inspired by the extraordinary life of Russian sniper Lyudmila “Mila” Pavlichenko, known as “Lady Death.”

Mila becomes a mother at 15; six years later, amid an impending divorce, she promises her son that she’ll teach him to shoot. In between working on her dissertation at Kiev University and raising Alexei, she finds that she’s brilliant with a rifle. When the Nazis invade the Soviet Union, her elite skill becomes a key asset in the Red Army’s fight to defend the motherland. Mila sets off for war and marches into her own legend.

In each of her novels, Quinn displays an innate awareness of how history can be warped by time and power. In The Diamond Eye, we don’t just follow Mila’s journey into war; we see her actions in sharp contrast to what the Soviet government will later say she’s done. Mila’s perceptions of events are shown in relief to those of the men around her, and even to the perceptions of the American public, thanks to a 1942 press tour hosted by first lady Eleanor Roosevelt. That press tour forms the novel’s narrative spine, unfolding in sections that alternate with Mila’s larger wartime odyssey. This structure steadily ratchets up the suspense as it becomes clear that Mila is not as welcome in the U.S. as she was led to believe.

The Diamond Eye is a remarkable combination of immersive wartime storytelling, rich detailing and wonderful pacing. What really makes The Diamond Eye land, though, goes beyond Quinn’s mastery of her chosen genre. This is, first and foremost, an exceptional character piece, a study of a woman who is a killer, a mother, a lover and, above all else, a survivor.

Kate Quinn’s track record for delivering captivating historical fiction continues with the remarkable story of the notorious Russian sniper known as Lady Death.

There’s a magic to Isaac Fellman’s fiction, born of his depth of perception, precise prose and straightforward sense of expression. In his second novel, Dead Collections, his characters’ earnestness and warmth make even the darkest moments beautiful, in a way that will remind the reader of the work of Anne Rice and Stephen Graham Jones. Fellman tells the tale of two souls searching the depths of their experiences for something—and seemingly finding it in each other.

Sol is a trans archivist who manages his vampirism by living among the collections in the basement of his workplace. His carefully cultivated isolation begins to shift when he meets Elsie, an alluring widow who brings in her late wife’s papers for archiving. As Sol digs into the writer’s work, he also begins to discover Elsie’s curious spirit. Elsie reciprocates, and as their spark kindles into something more, Sol must contend not just with the possibility of venturing out into the world but also with a newfound blight that seems to be seeping into his professional life.

Through a combination of Sol’s incisive narration, message board entries, script books and other formalist flights of experimentation, Fellman lays out Sol’s and Elsie’s parallel journeys with propulsive, intense focus. The prose unfolds with notable determination, and there’s not a single wasted word, even when Fellman plays with format and frame of reference.

Whether he’s conjuring the image of Sol soaking his hands in warm water to give the illusion of body heat or the way Elsie uses light to mimic the experience of daylight for her vampire friend, Fellman’s style is vivid, specific and deeply evocative. On a sentence level, Dead Collections is a sensual, tactile work, and when combined with Fellman’s confident grasp of his characters, it becomes a wonderful, bittersweet journey in which you may get happily lost.

Isaac Fellman’s characters make even the darkest moments beautiful, in a way that will remind the reader of the work of Anne Rice and Stephen Graham Jones.

John Darnielle’s stories, whether on the page (Wolf in White Van, Universal Harvester) or set to music (the Mountain Goats), have a tendency to transcend easy classification and simple genre labels. And yet there’s always a clarity to them, a feeling that the creator’s mind and heart are at work in tandem. With Devil House, his extraordinarily ambitious third novel, Darnielle proves his versatility yet again. This remarkable shapeshifter of a tale changes form, perspective and even relative truth as it pleases, but never loses its voice.

Bestselling true crime writer Gage Chandler thinks he’s found his next book in the form of a 1980s cold case that revolves around an adult video store, a group of teens interested in the occult and two victims who never received justice after one brutal Halloween night. Hoping to absorb the atmosphere of the crime scene and drill down to the truth, Gage moves into the site of the murders, the titular “Devil House.” But the deeper he descends, the slipperier the truth becomes.

Though the novel begins with Gage’s point of view and moves seamlessly into the affable, straightforward style of a true crime writer laying out the facts, Darnielle doesn’t stop there. Chapters unfold from various perspectives, including that of the subject of one of Gage’s past books and those of the principals in the Devil House case. There are even sections that drift into stylized Middle English and an entire chapter documenting the life of a king.

And yet, Devil House never feels like a book steeped in gimmicks, because Darnielle steers his dark vessel with dexterity, wit and stunning inventiveness. This novel will lure in true crime fans and readers of experimental fiction alike, then blow them all away with its determined exploration of the nature of truth and what we want to hear versus what we need to hear. It’s a triumph from an always exciting storyteller.

Read more: John Darnielle narrates the audiobook for ‘Devil House,’ his most bizarre novel to date.

In his shapeshifting, extraordinarily ambitious third novel, musician and writer John Darnielle proves his versatility yet again.

Pulitzer Prize winner Louise Erdrich understands the sense of significance, whether subliminal or overt, that we can glean from stories—and what this offers our daily lives. The Sentence, Erdrich’s latest novel, unfolds over the course of one tumultuous year, and its persistent search for meaning reveals astonishing, sublime depths.

Tookie is an ex-convict turned bookseller working in a Minneapolis bookstore after years of reading for pure survival. Her voracious appetite for words has made her very good at what she does, but on All Souls’ Day in 2019, her world is thrown into disarray by an unlikely challenger. A customer who recently died has made her way back to the store, bringing along some revelations in a mysterious handwritten book, and she won’t leave until Tookie can figure out why she returned in the first place.

Though this often comically unpredictable ghost story forms the spine of The Sentence, Erdrich also branches out to explore the broader landscape of Minneapolis in 2019 and 2020, from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic to the murder of George Floyd and the protests that followed. Yet her narrative never loses its grip. As vast as its scope may be, The Sentence doesn’t feel overstuffed because Erdrich roots it in Tookie’s own longings, beliefs and challenges.

Tookie isn’t just plagued by a literal ghost; she’s also haunted in other ways, and as she searches for the significance of these hauntings, she finds that she’s far from alone in her experience. Erdrich’s prose, layered with unforgettable flourishes of detail—from the mesmeric spinning of a ceiling fan to the quest for the perfect soup—enhances and deepens this growing sense of a larger, collective haunting.

The Sentence is an imaginative, boldly honest exploration of our ever-evolving search for truth in the stories we both consume and create. It’s a staggering addition to Erdrich’s already impressive body of work.

Unfolding over the course of one tumultuous year, Louise Erdrich’s novel searches for meaning and reveals astonishing, sublime depths.

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