5 Hot Books: The Story of a Lynching, Inside a Virginia Homicide Squad, and More

Five books people are talking about this week -- or should be

1. The Lynching: The Epic Courtroom Battle That Brought Down the Klan by Laurence Leamer (William Morrow)

After a largely black jury was unable to reach a verdict in the trial of a black man accused of murdering a white man in 1981 in Mobile, Alabama, two Klansmen sought retaliation. They targeted a black teen-ager who was walking alone,  then killed him and hung his body from a tree branch. This gripping book covers that trial, and also a subsequent one on behalf of the boy’s mother, in which prominent lawyer and co-founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center Morris Dees successfully held the Klan organization responsible for this hate crime. Leamer, author of King of the Night: The Life of Johnny Carson, and a trilogy on the Kennedys (The Kennedy Women, The Kennedy Men, Sons of Camelot), skillfully weaves together the lives of Governor George Wallace, Klan leader Robert Shelton, and Dees to tell the story not only of this case, and of the K.K.K, but of centuries of racial discrimination and violence.

2.  A Good Month for Murder: The Inside Story of a Homicide Squad by Del Quentin Wilber (Henry Holt and Company)

In his previous book, Rawhide Down, Wilber offered an account of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  This time, he gets inside Prince Georges County, Md., the high-crime Washington, D.C. suburb, and chronicles twelve homicides that occurred during February 2013.  Wilber employs his considerable skills to tell the stories of those investigating these violent acts – mostly drug- and gang-related – and provides a closely observed look at the toll on those trying to solve the crimes, as well as the victims. Wilber — who was given extraordinary access to interrogation rooms, crime scenes, and family homes — vividly depicts the tension, pressure and occasional tedium involved in crime-solving, portraying the work as both vital and unending.

3. Harley and Me: Embracing Risk on the Road to a More Authentic Life by Bernadette Murphy (Counterpoint)

Murphy takes the cliché of the middle-aged man and a sports car and turns it around in this memoir about how she, as a forty-eight-year-old college professor, wife, and mother of three learned to ride a motorcycle.  Murphy writes discerningly not only of the motorcycling, but of the underlying neuroscience and psychology.  She argues persuasively for the idea of using risk to transform life.  

4. Goodnight, Beautiful Women by Anna Noyes (Grove)

In this intense, beautiful, and at times wickedly funny collection of short stories, Noyes challenges an idealized version of Maine, particularly as a place for women and girls.  In Noyes’s coastal Maine, life is lived on the edge, and relationships are precarious and complicated.  Through her protagonists, Noyes channels life on often bleak and dark fault lines, such as unwanted pregnancies, chipped teeth, abandonment, and threats of violence.

5. The Book of Esther by Emily Barton (Tim Duggan Books)

In her previous novel Brookland, Barton gorgeously and dramatically imagined a vanished world, and she is back in action with her brilliant The Book of Esther. Set in Eastern Europe, August 1942, Barton imagines Esther, a daughter of a policy adviser in an isolated sovereign territory, who sets out on a mechanical horse to change into a man and fight the Nazis. Barton infuses her magical potion with mysticism and technology and, in a story that brings Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policemen’s Union to mind, creates an alluring alternative universe born of history.