Book Recommendations: Strout, Veronesi, Thompson, Wilson and More

It’s been too long since I’ve posted but I’ve been busy reading so many good books I couldn’t stop, and now I want to recommend the best of the group. I’m splitting the list between general/contemporary/literary fiction and mystery/suspense thrillers. A recent blog tour for my last book garnered a number of new subscribers, many of whom love mysteries as much as I do and I want to give them a reason to stick with me.
First the more general fiction:

Lucy by the Sea: I am an unabashed fan of Elizabeth Strout and have read everything she’s written, back to the marvelous Amy & Isabelle. Her latest is an all-too-accurate depiction of the first year of Covid, with Lucy and ex-husband William escaping New York City for Maine. A lot of the old characters reappear and they’ve all grown deeper, but what stands out is how well Strout has captured the feelings that overwhelmed so many of us in 2020. The downside is that maybe she did it too well. I didn’t like this quite as much as Oh William!, but it was close. If you didn’t read that one, treat yourself and read it first.

Quiet Chaos by Italian author Sandro Veronesi: My wife recommended this one and I’m so glad she did. In the opening scene Pietro Paladini saves a drowning stranger only to go home and find his wife died suddenly while he was at the beach. Wracked by guilt because he wasn’t there to save the woman he loved, he operates in a daze until the next week when he takes his 8-year-old daughter to school and decides to wait outside so she can see him from the classroom window. He comes back and does the same thing the next day—and every day after that, working when he feels like it from his car. Friends and colleagues visit thinking he’s crazy, but as they start unloading their woes, it becomes clear that Paladini is the only sane one. First published in 2005 and translated into English in 2011. (Don’t settle for the movie.)

Trust by Herman Diaz: The structure of Diaz’s new novel is more than a bit unusual—the story of a successful financial guru told in separate interlocking books by different authors with different perspectives on the protagonist and his wife. It will leave you thinking for a long time.

Companion Piece by Ali Smith. Every time I read Smith, I’m amazed at how much I can enjoy a novel while simultaneously feeling I don’t understand it. The plot of Companion Piece is easy enough to follow, but there’s a constant awareness that a lot is going on under the surface that is much harder to get hold of. It takes a lot of intellectual energy, but it’s well worth it. The story is set in the post-Brexit Covid era in the UK and focuses on a woman caring for a possibly dying father, but that doesn’t begin to describe this innovative short novel.

Also recommended: One Two Three by Laurie Frankel, Groundskeeping by Lee Cole, Barcelona Dreaming by Rupert Thompson, The Last Jew by Noah Gordon, and The Lincoln Highway by Amor Towles.

A bout of Covid and the resulting isolation made me turn to my favorite mystery writers, beginning with John Sandford, who has to be one of the world’s most prolific writers (55 and counting). I began with Mad River, book six in the Virgil Flowers series. It’s full of intrigue and good writing, and Virgil has clearly come into his own as a multidimensional character—one you can love even while you recognize his faults. I also read The Investigator, the first in the new series about Letty Davenport, the daughter of Lucas Davenport, star of the Prey series. She’s a bit too perfect in this, but I’m confident she’ll grow and the improve as the series develops.

I also discovered an author new to me – Linda Castillo, whose Kate Burkholder series features a small-town police chief who grew up Amish but left the group. She’s repeatedly drawn back, called on whenever there’s a crime in an Amish community She’s a strong, fully developed character, and the books have the added benefit of teaching us about life in the Amish World. The two books I read and liked were Gone Missing and The Hidden One. I’m sure I’ll read more.

Restless by William Boyd is a spy story that is sure to remind you of John le Carré’s best. Set in 1941, it focuses on British intelligence operations aimed at the United States, with the goal of getting the U.S. to join the war against Hitler. Unraveled slowly and cunningly to provide suspense while reminding you of the moral ambiguities forced on those who protect national security.

Mouth to Mouth by Antoine Wilson: Not a mystery in the traditional sense but plenty of suspense and evil-doing. The premise is interesting: How would you feel if you saved someone from drowning and the person never acknowledged you—never even acknowledged the incident or its effect on his life? And what if the person was highly successful and very rich? Perhaps you’d just try to forget about it and move on. Or maybe it would gradually get to you and you’d feel the need to do something. That’s the question at the heart of Mouth to Mouth, and how it’s answered is a yarn that’s bound to surprise and make you wonder.

Also recommended: The Murder Rule by Dervla McTiernan, Enemy at the Gates by Kyle Miles, and Fair Warning by Michael Connelly.

I’d like to keep offering (and receiving) book recommendations. Please send me your favorites and if I use them in a future post, I’ll send you a free copy of any of my books (your choice, kindle or print). Send your ideas to

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Mark Willen