PW Picks: Books of the Week, December 6, 2021 – Publishers Weekly

The books we love coming out this week include new titles by Robert Gottlieb, Mick Herron, and Lyndsay Faye.
« More than any other star, » Greta Garbo « invaded the subconscious of the audience, » writes veteran editor Gottlieb (A Certain Style) in this searching and sensitive portrait of the actor. Though « only the camera knew » what went on behind her « amazing eyes, » Gottlieb follows Garbo from her impoverished Swedish childhood (during which she frequented soup kitchens) through to her beginnings in film and her remarkable career as an MGM star. He covers her life out of the spotlight, too, including her reclusive nature (« When she died, there was plentiful evidence of how ordinary and how dull the real woman had been, » wrote critic David Thomson), cross-dressing (which she'd « always enjoyed »), and art collecting (within a month of getting into it, she bought three Renoirs). Garbo's life was full of contradictions, Gottlieb writes: she « insisted on being independent » yet lived mostly under the thumb of MGM, and called America home yet had « no connection to it. » A lengthy « Garbo reader » full of excerpts and articles about her rounds out Gottlieb's perfectly paced account—it includes Harriet Parsons's 1931 piece « 24 Hours with Greta Garbo, » Kenneth Tynan's 1954 Sight and Sound profile, and quotes from her colleagues including Billy Wilder, Edmund Goulding, and Clarence Brown—and the wealth of photos is a plus. The result is a masterful look at an elusive Hollywood giant. 
The 11 entries in British author Herron’s first story collection offer wit, original metaphors, surprising plots, and seemingly placid scenes full of sinister undercurrents. Highlights include the seamlessly constructed title story, in which a man can’t convince the police that his missing wife has been abducted, and the wonderfully deceptive “Lost Luggage,” in which a young couple stop at a motorway service station and engage in a bit of people watching. “All the Livelong Day” elegantly teases back layers of expectation that lead readers from a simple hike through dramatic countryside to claustrophobic horror. Four stories feature Herron’s Oxford private investigators, Zoë Boehm and Joe Silvermann. In one of them, “Proof of Love,” each of the detectives confronts—in their own very different ways—a blackmailer. The distant past of MI5 spymaster Jackson Lamb, another of Herron’s series characters, is poignantly explored in “The Last Dead Letter.” Herron (This Is What Happened), who has received CWA Gold and Steel Dagger awards, is sure to win new fans with this one.
With the keen eye of a detective and persistence of a genealogist, researcher Marks unravels the complicated story of “nanny wonder” Vivian Maier (1926–2009), one of the 20th century’s most enigmatic street photographers. When Maier’s photographs first came to light in 2007, she quickly became a phenomenon in the art world for her “keen grasp of the serendipitous choreography of daily life,” and, until now, her mysterious personal history. Here, Marks paints the “full picture” of Maier’s life, from a fraught childhood with her single mother in France, to her teenage years in New York City in the 1930s, and, later, her 40-year avocation as a photographer, which she juggled alongside her job as a caregiver for various families (“Vivian had a foot in each world”). Drawing from her extensive access to Maier’s archives, Marks vividly evokes a woman full of both tragic and amusing complexities, who struggled with paranoia and a hoarding disorder, was a tireless civil rights advocate, and had as much of an affinity for photographing moments of “human affection” as she did the “oft-ignored elderly.” In doing so, the author shines a light on the “intelligence, creativity, [and] passion” behind Maier’s preternatural ability to capture “the universality of the human condition.” This definitive account will leave readers in awe. 
Illustrator, cartoonist, and animator Blechman (The Juggler of Our Lady) gets the coffee-table book treatment with this witty and comprehensive double-sided volume collecting both his cartoons (on “one hand,” or side of the book) and essays (found on the other side, flipped). His energetic and loose line informs his trenchant satirical comics, such as reimagining Shakespeare’s career or Goethe trying to chase down his youth. Blechman’s career doing illustrations for advertising no doubt informed his parody of Kafka’s Metamorphosis, wherein Kafka himself wakes up one morning turned into a cartoon and only earns respect because an insurance logo walked into the strip. His retelling of “The Pied Piper of Hamlin” is a masterpiece of minimalist drawing and a satire of conspicuous consumption. The collection also reproduces his colorful, scratchy, and witty gag covers for Story magazine. The flip side pulls together essays and interviews with such artists as Saul Steinberg and David Levine, in which Blechman proves just as nimble and playful in prose as in cartooning. The final essay, “I’m Not Finished,” a meditation on aging, is also an act of defiance against the concept of retiring as an artist. This well-designed work is both long deserved and a spectacular showcase for Blechman’s storied career.
In 1471, the House of York is ascendant, and Margaret Beaufort, countess of Richmond and a leading Lancastrian, is not only out of power but in serious danger, in Doherty’s outstanding third Margaret Beaufort mystery (after 2020’s The Stone of Destiny). The bloodshed begins with the murder in a tavern of a French royal clerk, who was trying to chase down an ominous rumor. Other homicides follow, as well as a massacre in an English forest. It becomes clear that there’s a political point to the trail of death. Why is someone trying to drive the countess out of England? Who would benefit? Meanwhile, Beaufort’s trusted henchman, Christopher Urswicke, who’s fighting various family demons, investigates the murders and mischief surrounding Beaufort. What makes this stand out from other mysteries set during the Wars of the Roses is how it draws in formidable players from outside England. Particularly frightening is a highly trained group of assassins from Spain, based on historical fact. This entry’s devious and deadly plots and conspiracies make Game of Thrones look like a game of patty-cake.
Forensic and psychiatric nurse Burgess debuts with an affecting memoir about her crucial if largely unknown role in helping the FBI develop criminal profiling tools. In 1974, Burgess, who had long worked with sexual assault and trauma victims, published a groundbreaking paper demonstrating that “sexual violence was more about power and control than the act of sex itself.” Burgess’s discoveries attracted the attention of the FBI, which had been noting an uptick in sex crimes, and resulted in an invitation from agent Roy Hazelwood, the pioneer of profiling sexual predators, to lecture on the topic. She soon assumed a formal role as the head of a criminal personality study dealing with apparently motiveless crimes and serial killers, which would help build a foundation for the creation of accurate profiles. Burgess, who worked for the FBI for decades, was involved in high-profile cases, such as that of the BTK Killer, and concludes that the criminal mind is “simultaneously foreign… while being so disturbingly close to our own.” Admirers of John Douglas’s The Killer Across the Table: Unlocking the Secrets of Serial Killers and Predators with the FBI’s Original Mindhunter will be riveted.
Delicious vegetarian recipes are paired with “practical, real life advice for a better planet” in this excellent collection from the folks at BuzzFeed’s Goodful. While they believe cutting out meat is the “most effective way to reduce your environmental impact,” the authors also explore other simple eco-friendly practices, such as buying seasonally and sustainably (“lean heavily toward fresh produce and pantry staples”), reducing packaging, and extending the life of food through proper handling. With a recipes section guided by the mantra “work smarter, not harder,” it will come as no surprise that meal prep here is king. Accordingly, unfussy instructions are on offer to make a week’s work of grains, precook beans, and roast veggies in batches. To save money and time, home cooks are offered a tantalizing selection of five-ingredients-or-fewer meals—including charred whole broccoli salad—and ten meals that can be made in less than ten minutes—such as mushroom scallops with quick pea mash, and caramelized banana and orange parfaits. Zero-waste dishes, including a glorious grainless pie crust with whole-citrus filling, zero-waste pesto, and vegetable scrap stock, are easy on the wallet as well as the planet. Home cooks looking to eat more consciously will find this immensely inspiring and deeply satisfying.
In this impressive collection of six stories depicting Sherlock Holmes from perspectives other than Watson’s from Edgar finalist Faye (The Whole Art of Detection: Lost Mysteries of Sherlock Holmes), Faye draws on not only obvious canonical supporting characters like Mrs. Hudson but also lesser-known ones, including Baker Street Irregular Henry Wiggins, Scotland Yarder Stanley Hopkins, and A. Davenport Lomax, a librarian given just the briefest mention by Conan Doyle. As with her traditional pastiches, Faye pushes the envelope judiciously, providing depth to the iconic sleuth without transforming him beyond recognition. For example, “The Adventure of the Stopped Clocks,” narrated by Irene Adler, the one woman who bested Holmes, fleshes out his admiration for her intellect, and explores the impact on the sleuth of Watson’s marriage and move out of Baker Street, all within the context of an ingenious take on an untold case centered on why all the clocks in a man’s home have stopped. And “Our Common Correspondent” gives Inspector Lestrade a moving backstory that also touches on the evolving Holmes-Watson dynamic. Nuance, wit, and clever plotting make this a superior version of George Mann’s Associates of Sherlock Holmes anthologies. Sherlockians will clamor for a sequel.

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