Australian novelist Jane Harper is on a roll, having now produced three magnificent psychological thrillers in fairly quick succession. Her latest, The Lost Man (Flatiron, $27.99), introduces new characters (the first two books featured a detective protagonist named Aaron Falk), but still relies on the author’s familiar themes of family hardship, resilience, and survival. The harsh, desolate terrain of Queensland provides the backdrop for the story, which begins with the mysterious death of one of three brothers, whose car, and body, are found miles apart for no explicable reason. Geographic and social isolation, as well as family secrets, all emerge to offer clues to solving the mystery. Harper, a former journalist, is an expert at sowing false leads in her readers’ minds, creating doubts about what sort of deceptions could have led to a man dying of dehydration in an area he knew well, and weaving together strands of evidence as the story becomes more tangled. Her greatest gift: You never figure out what happened until the very end. At least I didn’t.
John le Carré has been our greatest chronicler of spycraft in the Cold War era—its intricate rituals, its bureaucratic infighting, and its life-and-death gamesmanship. Agent Running in the Field (Viking, $29) is an up-to-the-minute portrait of a spy in the age of Brexit and Putin. Our narrator is Nat, almost forty-seven, an experienced agent runner, who’s returned to London after many postings, ready to move on—or to reluctantly accept one more job. He agrees to “remodel” a substation, “a dumping ground for…fifth-rate informants.” The only promising asset is Florence, who’s building a case against a Ukrainian oligarch. He’s also adjusting to home life: reconnecting with his wife, Pru, a hardworking lawyer, and playing weekly badminton with Ed, a solitary and disaffected media drone, always ranting against Trump and Brexit. As with all le Carré, the set pieces and dialogues are masterful, mixing humor and menace: particularly memorable are a visit with an old triple agent; a long inter-office interrogation; and a ski-lift conversation where Nat reveals his job to his daughter. This is classic le Carré.
As the next step in a remarkable career turn, Jhumpa Lahiri, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of several works of fiction in English, follows her Italian-language In Other Words by editing The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories (Penguin, $30). Discovering that many writers who inspired her were out of print or poorly translated, she assembled a collection of forty stories that represent the “robust tradition” of Italian writing from the twentieth century. Aiming “to present a portrait of Italy that reflects its reality,” she chose poets, journalists, musicians, critics, teachers, visual artists, scientists, politicians, and diplomats—then organized their works in reverse alphabetical order by their last name. Many of these names—Tomasi di Lampedusa, Italo Calvino, Primo Levi, and Natalia Ginzburg—will be familiar to English speakers, while others—Elio Vittorini, Ennio Flaiano, and Anna Banti—will be wonderful discoveries, as will be the sixteen stories here translated into English for the first time. Added bonuses include Lahiri’s illuminating introduction, brief profiles of each contributor, a dual chronology of Italy’s historical and literary events from 1840 to 2009, and suggestions for further reading.