Unhooking the Moon by Gregory Hughes; Quercus, 352 pages, $16.95.
According to the press release included with this marvelous debut novel, Gregory Hughes heard a friend describe Winnipeg as “a land so flat you can watch your dog run away for three days,” flew there to see the place for himself and decided to set a book there. This finalist for the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize, published for the first time in the United States, is the hilarious, poignant and devastatingly tragic tale of newly orphaned siblings – fearless 10-year-old Rat (actually Marie Claire DeBillier), who sees visions of angels and suffers seizures, and 12-year-old Bob and their quest to avoid being put in a children’s home. In this road trip tale for the ages, they travel from Manitoba to New York City, by train and then by bicycle, to find an uncle whom they believe to be a drug dealer.
Hughes paints a vivid portrait of their lives in Winnipeg with their alcoholic father, their colorful circle of friends including the Native American neighbors who provide burial rites. The trip to New York adds a new constellation of colorful characters: Joe, who sells black market cigars, a hilarious con man named Tommy Mattolla, a rapper who lives in a luxury apartment overlooking Central Park. – Jean Westmoore
Critical Mass by Sara Paretsky; Putnam (480 pages, $26.95)
Since private investigator V.I. Warshawski took up with double bassist Jake Thibaut in 2009’s “Hardball,” her creator, author Sara Paretsky, seems to have renewed creative energy, evident in pages that almost seem to turn themselves.
The considerable action of “Critical Mass” is set off when Warshawski is asked by her friend, Dr. Lotty Herschel, to find Judy Binder, the daughter of Käthe, with whom Lotty grew up in pre-World War II Vienna, and Judy’s son, Martin.
That assignment takes Warshawski from her North Side Chicago neighborhood to a ruined downstate meth house. The book’s narrative also moves between wartime Vienna and present-day Chicago, the misery of the Jewish ghetto and the luxuries of North Shore privilege.
It’s a tale of intertwined generations. Käthe was the illegitimate daughter of two nuclear physicists, sent from Vienna to Britain with Lotty and other Jewish children in the Kindertransports in 1939. Her mother, Martina, disappeared without a trace. Käthe’s daughter, Judy, is a drug addict, but Judy’s son, Martin, takes after Martina, a scientific genius. “Critical Mass” is a thoroughly satisfying read.
– Sarah Bryan Miller, St. Louis Post-Dispatch