The Shelf: Joshilyn Jackson

Teresa Weaver on Georgia writers

Joshilyn Jackson

“It was an airport gypsy who told me that I had to kill my husband.” Joshilyn Jackson catapults into her fourth novel, Backseat Saints (Grand Central Publishing, $24.99), in typical all-out style, leaving more subtle approaches for less self-assured writers. As in her previous novels—Gods in Alabama, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, and Between, Georgia—Jackson practically dares you to stop reading from the very first sentence. Her cleverly twisted mix of comedy, mystery, and new Southern Gothic is different in every book and yet comfortably familiar. Her protagonist in Backseat Saints, Rose Mae Lolley, was a minor character in Gods in Alabama. Rose returns now with a troubled past—strewn with bad boys and worse men—and a desperate present. Indeed, the gypsy tells her, Rose has no future whatsoever unless she takes care of her viciously abusive husband before he takes care of her. (That the airport gypsy is soon revealed to be Rose’s long-lost mother is an unlikely misstep in a well-plotted, compulsively readable book.) The story, told through Rose’s eyes, includes wry humor but also gut-wrenching depictions of domestic violence and the fear—and wary freedom—that follows leaving that situation. “I pointed the Buick east, and I took all fifteen hours of driving straight up, neat, like a shot of Jack,” Jackson writes as Rose. “The wind was behind me, and I felt it as wolf breath, hot and stinking of old meat, raising the hairs on the back of my neck.”

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Heart of Lies by M.L. Malcolm
(Harper, $13.99 paperback)
M.L. Malcolm, a longtime Atlanta attorney who is now a freelance journalist in Los Angeles, delivers an ambitious, captivating debut novel that bridges two World Wars and three continents. Lead character Leo Hoffman is a tragically flawed study in human perseverance amid shifting truth and consequences. A dashing Hungarian with a natural gift for learning languages and earning people’s trust, Leo unwittingly gets entangled in—and slips out of—an international counterfeiting scheme, only to discover he’s wanted for murder. He flees Europe with his soul mate and settles in Shanghai, but he is undone by a deal with a devilish adversary. The expansive plot and rapid-fire pacing are underscored by brilliant depictions of post–World War I Europe and Asia as well as a sequel-friendly ending in New York City in the late 1930s.

Broken by Karin Slaughter
(Random House, $26)
Crime-thriller maven Karin Slaughter returns to her fictional Grant County in this cold-blooded page-turner. When the body of a young woman is pulled from icy Lake Grant—with a suspicious note—former medical examiner Sara Linton interrupts her Thanksgiving to investigate.

Ball Crazy: Confessions of a Dad-Coach by Hal Jacobs
(For Now/Everthemore Books, $10 paperback)
Countless writers have waxed romantic about baseball, but Hal Jacobs of Decatur brings something special to the subject, crafting a sweet memoir of one season spent obsessing over his son Henry’s youth baseball team.

In My Father’s House by E. Lynn Harris
(St. Martin’s Press, $24.99)
In My Father’s House is the first of what part-time Atlantan E. Lynn Harris—he of the bawdy bestsellers, who died suddenly on book tour last summer—had planned as a series featuring Bentley Dean, bisexual owner of a hot modeling agency in Miami’s South Beach.

Photograph by Herman Estevez