Tuesday Mooney Talks to Ghosts
By Kate Racculia. (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 359 pages, $26.)

If there is a magic trick in this novel, it’s that Kate Racculia somehow has managed to make a series of outlandish events seem reasonably believable. The premise stretches credulity: A billionaire dies, but leaves a treasure hunt with clues planted across Boston.

The pivotal character, Tuesday Mooney, is introverted, Goth-fashioned and a masterful investigator for a hospital seeking wealthy financial donors. Her childhood best friend, who disappeared mysteriously and is presumed dead, occasionally talks to her. A teenage neighbor across the hall, whom Tuesday tutors, dreams of somehow being able to contact her dead mother. Oh, and this all takes place in October.

The result is a quirky mix that delves into how grief affects us and how friendships and romance turn on a dime, yet it does so with disarming, often deliciously acerbic, humor. Maybe, Racculia writes, “the vast majority of humans felt like unpaid extras. Milling about, uselessly waiting to be discovered, recognized for their innate yet invisible value, but doomed never to be anything but human scenery.”

That sounds so dark, out of context, but in the rollicking context of events, the sentiment is more like an earnest yearning that’s possible to fulfill if we just persist in turning corners. The emerging messages are bright: Be generous now. Don’t cheat your friendships. Become the person you’re looking for. They sound so simple, out of context, but in the bewilderingly entertaining context of events, they actually seem like words to live by. And that’s a bit of sleight-of-psyche that’s a delight to encounter.

Racculia will be at Literature Lovers’ events Nov. 16 in Chaska and Nov. 17 in Stillwater. Tickets at www.lit-lovers.com/events.html.

KIM ODE

Silver, Sword & Stone: Three Crucibles in the Latin American Story
By Marie Arana. (Simon & Schuster, 477 pages, $30.)

 The three crucibles in Marie Arana’s mesmerizing history of South America are precious metals or, more precisely, the all-consuming hunt for them; the multinational infatuation with authoritarian leaders; and religious belief.

The arrival in the hemisphere of Christopher Columbus in the 15th century, followed rapidly by other adventurers, paves the way for an enlightening examination of the Aztec and Inca empires, which, respectively, dominated what is now Mexico and Central America and the vast continent to the south. Arana deftly portrays the successive leaders of these extraordinary civilizations and the domains they ruled, explaining ultimately how easy it was for the conquistadors to subdue them.

Amazingly, virtually all of the conquerors (Cortés, Pizarro, Balboa, de Soto and others) came within 50 miles of one another in the Spanish hinterland and did not know each other. Brutal, merciless and lustful of gold and silver, they destroyed two great empires and enslaved their peoples. But, as Arana makes clear, their viciousness was matched horror for horror by long-standing indigenous practices.

Who among us really knows anything of Latin American history? This remarkable book is the pathway. Jump on.

MICHAEL J. BONAFIELD