UNDER THE INFLUENCE
By Joyce Maynard. (William Morrow, 336 pages, $25.99.)
Helen, the narrator of Joyce Maynard's latest and perhaps best novel, is down and out. Her husband has left her, her photography work isn't paying much, and she's lost custody of her beloved son, Ollie, after a DUI arrest. She has no other real family or friends, though she's a nice enough person, just made shy and reclusive by her misfortunes.
So we rejoice with her when she's befriended by a wealthy couple, Swift and Ava Haviland. They're friendly, fun and unfailingly generous, and soon she finds herself spending most of her time with them. But when she starts to date a quiet, reliable accountant, they make it clear that they find him boring and unworthy of her. Are they right? Or are they controlling, toxic friends?
Helen is so unsure of herself that she can't decide, and because we see the world through her eyes, we can't, either — until a terrible accident forces Helen to face some truths about her friends and herself.
Maynard's novel is part soap opera, part thriller, but most valuable for its layered portrait of a woman who learns almost too late that one's identity and image must come from within, not from the views and machinations of others.
Night metro editor
THE BITTER SEASON
By Tami Hoag. (Dutton, 416 pages, $28.)
Nikki Liska has a problem. The detective assigned to a new Minneapolis cold case squad is attempting to get to the bottom of a 25-year mystery over the death of Ted Duffy, a decorated sex crimes detective, but none of his relatives seem interested in revisiting the crime.
Meanwhile, Liska's former partner, Sam Kovac, is focused on the brutal double homicide of an eminently unlikable University of Minnesota professor and his wife. Threads of the two crimes eventually intertwine in "The Bitter Season," another masterful mystery from bestselling author (and Minnesota native) Tami Hoag. With her trademark sharp dialogue, Hoag delivers a dark and gritty tale while offering plenty of empathetic characters for readers to get to know.
In addition to the familiar friendship between Liska and Kovac — it's the fifth book in the series — Hoag introduces several intriguing characters: Evi Burke, a woman who's fought her way back from life on the streets; and Michael Taylor, Kovac's disturbingly good-looking and apparently competent new partner. Minneapolitans will especially appreciate the name-checks to locations both popular and under the radar — shout-out to East Nokomis, anyone?
Mobile and social media editor