By Tim Gallagher (Atria Books, 277 pages, $26)
I wanted him to find it. Oh, I so wanted him to find it. In “Imperial Dreams,” Tim Gallagher chronicles his arduous and dangerous trek through Mexico’s Sierra Madre mountains in search of the giant and magnificent imperial woodpecker — a huge bird, much like the endangered ivory-billed, only bigger; much like the shy pileated, only much, much bigger. Imperials are (or were) 2 feet tall, with a black body, white wings, a long bill and red head-feathers that swoop to a jaunty, curling peak. In a previous book, Gallagher — editor of the Cornell Ornithology Lab’s Living Bird magazine — set out on a search for the ivory-billed woodpecker. (I wanted him to find that one, too, and he might have, briefly.) In this book, he must traverse country that is dangerous not only because it is rugged and remote, but also because it is crawling with drug smugglers and outlaws.
The beautiful bird he is seeking is native to old-growth forests high in the Mexican mountains, and much of the land where they once lived has been logged off and the habitat destroyed. Gallagher gets close in this book — he finds a guy whose father pointed out an imperial back in 1960, and another guy who claims he heard and saw one as recently as 10 years ago. He traces the route of birder William Rhein, who in 1959 shot the only film in existence of the Imperial. (You can see the images at the Cornell Lab website, www.birds.cornell.edu/.) The conclusions he reaches about the deliberate destruction of the magnificent bird are deeply disheartening. But oh, what an adventure he had getting there.
Laurie Hertzel, senior editor/Books
By Camilla Läckberg (Pegasus, 384 pages, $26)
Swedish crime novelist Camilla Läckberg has produced another first-rate thriller. In the “The Stranger,” a seemingly ordinary death apparently from drunken driving is soon overshadowed by the killing of a contestant in a reality television show. All of this happens in Fjällbacka, a small town where Detective Patrick Hedstrom heads an investigation caught in the glare of the national media. He confronts stupidity and duplicity as he pieces together a series of crimes around the country going back years. Like her three other books that have been translated for the U.S. market, Läckberg’s latest offers a rich landscape of characters with complex motives rooted in the past. Her books have been bestsellers in Europe, and this one won’t disappoint U.S. readers.
David Shaffer, reporter