In lockdown I recently reread Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. Was there ever a writer so sharp, so acidic in her assessment of society, yet so generous in her imagination of the people trapped within it? In The Night of All Souls, she returns from the grave. Philippa Swan’s erudite homage takes a page from Wharton’s unheralded ghost stories: the author is resurrected in an anteroom to the afterlife, and given a novella about a woman who works at the Wharton museum in Massachusetts. Edith must decide whether to publish or burn the work, revisiting her own writing in the process. It may have the trappings of a ghost story, but the most appealing element of Swan’s novel is its submerged literary appreciation of Wharton’s oeuvre, delivered in tandem with lively elements of biography, and shades of the wit and style for which Wharton was renowned.
Abstract, unnerving quasi-detective fiction with traces of absurdist dystopia, Gathering Evidence draws a husband and wife into parallel investigations. It begins with a treatise on a new social media app called Nest, which collates user data and derives a unique pattern from it. Soon, no one can make serious life decisions without consulting their patterns. That menacing prospect hovers as we meet John, a programmer with a large tech company, and his wife Shel, a primatologist. Shel travels to Africa to investigate the death of bonobos in a national park. Plans change and a dangerous situation develops. Meanwhile, John is attacked by an unknown assailant, and wakes up to visits from an anonymous medico; he must piece together his memories to discover what is happening to him and why. MacInnes has created a strangely prescient vision that fuses risks of ecological catastrophe, technological dependence, and social isolation.
The late Philip Kerr’s historical detective novels (set in Nazi Germany and featuring Bernie Gunther, a former policeman turned private investigator) were more than entertaining bestsellers. And if fans can’t look forward to further books in the series, there’s still Hitler’s Peace, which offers a twist-riddled and meticulously constructed espionage thriller wrapped in alternate history. It’s autumn, 1943 and Willard Mayer – philosophy professor, lothario and US spy – has been sent to Tehran by Roosevelt for the Allied conference with Churchill and Stalin. Knowing the war cannot be won, Hitler wants peace and only Churchill won’t negotiate. Enter Mayer, whose shadowy career may have involved being a double- and even triple-agent, and the stage is set for a spy novel with very high stakes. Kerr writes with great style and intelligence and departs from history with convincing plausibility.