Library Column: New Historical Fiction

Published 4:00 am Sunday, November 7, 2021

This column was submitted by Evangeline Cessna, Local History Librarian at the Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library.

This week’s column features historical fiction in the New Adult Fiction section.

Author Amor Towles delivers his third novel with “The Lincoln Highway.” Eighteen-year-old Emmett Watson has just finished serving 15 months for involuntary manslaughter on a juvenile work farm in Nebraska. It’s June 1954 and the warden of the farm is driving Emmett home. Not that he has much there. His mother is long gone, and his father recently passed away. The final nail in the coffin is that the bank has foreclosed on the property. Emmett has a plan to pick up his eight-year-old brother, Billy, and head for California and hopefully opportunity. As the warden drives away, Emmett learns that two of his friends from the work farm have stowed away in the trunk of the car. They have come up with a different plan for Emmett and his future: one that will take them on a journey in the opposite direction — New York City.

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Niall Leonard brings us an atmospheric thriller set in Edwardian London with his thriller “M, King’s Bodyguard.” William Melville had humble beginnings in Ireland, but has risen through the ranks with hard work, intelligence, and occasional brute force to become head of Scotland Yard’s Special Branch. He is also a personal bodyguard to Queen Victoria and her family and the scourge of anarchists at home and abroad. When the Queen dies in January 1901, the crowned heads of Europe converge on London for her funeral. Melville learns of a conspiracy, led by a mysterious nihilist known only as Akushku, to assassinate Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany at the ceremony. Melville and his German counterpart, Gustav Steinhauer find themselves mixed up in adultery, betrayal, and violence. Melville realizes that Akushku is a most formidable and vicious enemy, but is the greater threat from enemies or allies?

“Cloud Cuckoo Land” by Anthony Doerr is set in three different timelines: Constantinople in the fifteenth century, a small town in present-day Idaho, and on an interstellar ship decades from now. Thirteen-year-old Anna is an orphan who lives inside the formidable walls of Constantinople in a house of women who make their living embroidering the robes of priests. She is restless and ravenously curious, so she learns to read. In this city, known for its libraries, she finds a book, the story of Aethon, who longs to be turned into a bird so that he can fly to a utopian paradise in the sky. She reads to her ailing sister even as the walls of the great city are bombarded. Her path will eventually cross with Omeir, a village boy, conscripted with his beloved oxen into the invading army. Five hundred years later in a library in Idaho, Zeno, who learned Greek as a prisoner of war, rehearses a play adaptation of Aethon’s story with five children even as troubled teen named Seymour has tucked a bomb away among the library shelves. In the not-too-distant future aboard the interstellar ship Argos, Konstance is alone in the vault, copying on scraps of sacks the story of Aethon. Her father told her the story, and though she has never set foot on Earth, she finds the story irresistible.

“Blind Tiger” is a roaring suspense novel by Sandra Brown. It’s 1920 and Prohibition is the new law of the land, but in the Moonshine Capital of Texas, greed, lust, mayhem and murder are already institutions. Thatcher Hutton is a war-weary soldier on his way back to cowboy life aboard a freight train. The day Thatcher jumps off the train at Foley, Texas, a local woman goes missing. As the only stranger in town, naturally he is suspected of her abduction, and worse. Standing between him and absolution are a corrupt mayor, a crooked sheriff, a notorious madam, a wily bootlegger, feuding moonshiners and a young widow, Laurel Plummer, whose soft features conceal an iron will. For Laurel, what was supposed to be a fresh start turned into a tragedy. She is left destitute but determined so she plunges into moonshining. Only the good ol’ boys who have ruled the roost for so long are none too happy. Her success quickly makes her a target for these cutthroat competitors. Laurel’s only hope may lie with — now deputy — Thatcher even though they are on opposite sides of a moonshine war.

Lauren Groff’s latest is called “Matrix.” Seventeen-year-old Marie de France is cast out of the royal court by Eleanor of Aquitaine because she is deemed too coarse and rough-hewn for marriage or courtly life. She is sent to England to be the new prioress of an impoverished abbey whose nuns are on the brink of starvation and assailed by disease. After her initial disgust with the severity of her new life, Marie finds her focus and love in the collective life with her new sisters. She learns to mold her desire for family, for her homeland, for the passions of her youth into something new to her: devotion to her sisters and conviction in her own divine visions. In a world that is shifting and corroding in frightening ways, will the force of her visions be defense enough?

Kerry Greenwood brings us a new Phryne Fisher Mystery with “Death in Daylesford.” Miss Phryne Fisher receives a mysterious invitation for a spa vacation from an unknown retired Captain Herbert Spencer. This, of course, piques her curiosity. Spencer runs a retreat in Victoria’s rural spa country for shell-shocked veterans of World War I. This is a cause after Phryne’s own heart, but she can’t figure out what Spencer wants from her, so she and her faithful lady’s maid, Dot set out for Daylesford. Dot gets to know the remarkable women who run the hotel where they are lodging while Phryne enjoys a mean—and dessert—with the handsome Captain Spencer. Their mini-vacation is short-lived, however, as the pair are thrown into duplicitous Highland gatherings, the mysterious disappearance of several women and a string of murders committed under their very noses. What is a modern lady of the 1920s to do? Why, solve the mysteries, of course!