Anna & Solomon by Elaine Snyder; pictures by Harry Bliss; Farrar Straus Giroux, $17.99.
A Westchester antiques dealer collaborated with her son-in-law on this charming picture book inspired by her grandparents’ journey to America from Russia at the dawn of the 20th century. Solomon, known as a talented house painter, and Anna, who had a head for figures, lived in the Jewish quarter of Vitebsk, in constant fear of czarist persecution. Solomon emigrated to the U.S. first, with Anna promising to come as soon as he sent her the money for the voyage. But Solomon was in for one surprise after another, in a series of encounters certain to amuse young readers. Bliss, a cartoonist for the New Yorker, has illustrated many children’s books (including Doreen Cronin’s “Diary of a Worm”) and his vibrant illustrations add much to Snyder’s sweet and funny story of the immigrant experience. The author includes an afterword with a photo and more information about her grandparents.
– Jean Westmoore
Mr. Mercedes by Stephen King; Scribner (448 pages, $30)
In “Mr. Mercedes,” Stephen King returns to the non-supernatural suspense genre of such earlier novels as “Cujo” and “Misery.” He also resists the bloat that has crept into his books over the last decade, keeping the story moving at lightning speed and focusing primarily on two characters, antagonists about to embark on an elaborate dance of wits.
One is Bill Hodges, a retired 62-year-old detective who is divorced and estranged from his only daughter. Bill spends his days on his La-Z-Boy, watching reality TV shows and playing with his .38 Smith & Wesson. Occasionally, he sticks the barrel of the gun in his mouth, but he hasn’t yet reached the point at which he’s ready to pull the trigger. After years of active duty, he’s depressed and bored and feels obsolete but not yet suicidal. He’s getting there though.
The other is Brady Hartfield, a “genetically handsome fellow with neatly combed brown hair and a bland say-cheese smile” who a few months prior rammed a stolen gray Mercedes into a crowd of unemployed people waiting in line at a job fair (the story is set in 2009, the economic recession playing a supporting role). He killed eight people, including a baby, but was never apprehended.
Hodges is haunted by the unsolved case. Hartfield, who lives with his alcoholic mother and works as a computer repairman and ice cream truck driver, is a psychopath so twisted he got a sexual kick out of mass slaughter and can’t stop reliving it.
King cranks out a book a year, sometimes two. “Mr. Mercedes” feels like something he wrote as quickly as the novel reads – the simple plot unfolds over a couple of days and could be summarized on a post-it note – but it’s also a superb example of how the writer hooks you by getting into the minds of his everyday protagonists. The book is also peppered with contemporary pop-culture references that give it a veneer of veracity.
– Rene Rodriguez, Miami Herald