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26 Works of Fiction to Read This Season

Blockbuster thrillers from Grisham and Baldacci, plus award-worthy novels by Franzen, Erdrich and much more

spinner image anthony horowitz richard powers liane moriarty colm tóibín ken follett colson whitehead jocelyn nicole johnson new fiction books for fall
HarperCollins Publishers / W. W. Norton & Company / Henry Holt and Co. / Scribner / Viking / Doubleday / Henry Holt and Co.

Yes, every season we gush over how fantastic the new batch of books is, but (seriously!) this fall's releases are unusually awesome. Many are exceptionally wise and wonderful, including Colm Tóibín's The Magician, Elizabeth Strout’s Oh, William!, Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen and Bewilderment by Richard Powers, while others are super-entertaining escapes (check out the latest from Liane Moriarty and Richard Osman, to name just a few).

There are also new installments in tried-and-true series by only-one-name-necessary masters like Grisham, Baldacci and Evanovich; Silverview, the final novel by the late John le Carre; a fast-paced debut thriller, All Her Little Secrets by Wanda M. Morris; and plenty more for readers to dive into this fall and beyond.

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The Magician by Colm Tóibín​  

Literary lovers will want to sink into this absorbing reimagining of the life of the Nobel Prize-winning German writer Thomas Mann. The story takes us through Mann’s youth, rise to fame in Germany with the publication of Budenbrooks, initial complacency then growing alarm as the Nazis take power, marriage to wife Katia despite his attraction to young men, and emigration to the U.S. The narrative includes experiences portrayed as having sparked some of Mann’s greatest works, such as his fascination from afar with a handsome Polish boy that results in his famous novella Death in Venice. Mann family members have their own struggles — with each other and a world where they rarely feel at home — all vividly brought to life. The Irish Tóibín’s other notable novels include 2009’s Brooklyn (turned into a 2015 film starring Saoirse Ronan) and, more similar to this, The Master (2004), a dive into the life and mind of Henry James. (Sept. 7)

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

For fans of Big Little Lies and Moriarty’s many other hit novels, her latest is an entertaining page-turner focused on a suburban Australian family who once centered their lives around tennis. The main character is Joy Delaney, who, with her husband, Stan, has retired from the tennis biz and feeling directionless with their four grown children (more or less) launched. When a young woman named Savannah shows up at their door seeking shelter from an abusive boyfriend, Joy embraces the chance to be needed again, to her kids’ chagrin — and growing alarm after Joy disappears without a word. Moriarty deftly builds suspense and portrays the characters' quirks and insecurities with the subtle sense of humor that makes reading her books so much fun. TV rights have already been sold, natch. (Sept. 14)

Harlem Shuffle by Colson Whitehead

Whitehead has already won two Pulitzers, for The Underground Railroad and The Nickel Boys, so here’s wondering if he’ll score a hat trick with this one. It has a lighter tone than his previous weighty winners, but is racking up the kudos, including being named a finalist for the Kirkus Prize. The story is set in the late ’50s and early ’60s in New York City, where cash-strapped Ray Carney — the son of a crook — runs a struggling furniture store on Harlem’s 125th Street. Though he's trying his darndest to be an upstanding family man (he’s “only slightly bent when it [comes] to being crooked”), Carney is lured into a criminal underworld by his cousin Freddie, who wants help fencing stolen loot after a planned heist. (Sept. 14)

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Bewilderment by Richard Powers

This beautiful story by the acclaimed Powers, whose novel The Overstory won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize, has already made the short list for the Booker Prize (the winner will be announced Nov. 3) and long list for the National Book Award (winner announced Nov. 17). Its focus is on astrophysicist Theo Byrne, who’s mourning the death of his wife, and his sweet but troubled son, Robin, desperately missing his mom and given to sudden rages and deep distress, especially over the Earth's environmental degradation. Hoping to avoid medication as a solution, Theo agrees for Robin to join an experiment led by a colleague who’s testing a novel brain-mapping technology that allows Robin to think like his mother — a process that tames the boy’s anger but causes its own set of problems. Theo, who creates stories about life on imaginary planets for Robin every night, grapples with how much he doesn’t understand — about his child and the universe. (Sept. 21)

My Monticello by Jocelyn Nicole Johnson

Another finalist for this year’s Kirkus Prize, this debut collection of short stories that Colson Whitehead has called “electrifying” tackles issues of racial identity and racism in different settings and contexts. The titular novella features two modern-day descendants of Sally Hemings and Thomas Jefferson, a woman and her grandmother, who join a group of Charlottesville neighbors seeking refuge at Monticello to hide from violence fomented at a Unite the Right rally. In “Control Negro,” a story that was included in the Best American Short Stories 2018, a university professor distances himself from his son from birth — an experiment to see how his son might develop if he grows up unaware of his Black father. The audiobook is read by a full cast, including the actors LeVar Burton and Aja Naomi King. (Oct. 5)

A Line to Kill by Anthony Horowitz

Horowitz, the TV writer behind PBS's Foyle's War, is always great fun, as evidenced by last year’s super-entertaining Moonflower MurdersA Line to Kill is the third in a trilogy, following The Word is Murder and The Sentence is Death (you don’t need to have read the others to follow this plot, however). Like the other two novels, it playfully features the author “Anthony Horowitz” teaming up with the brilliant and enigmatic Detective Daniel Hawthorne. This time they’re at a literary festival on the island of Alderney to discuss the last book they collaborated on, when a wealthy resident is murdered. The island goes into lockdown and the pair is on the case. (Oct. 19)

Oh, William! by Elizabeth Strout

The author of the beloved novel Olive Kitteridge and its Pulitzer Prize—winning follow-up Olive, Again (2019), brings back another compelling character, Lucy Barton (My Name is Lucy BartonAnything Is Possible). Lucy, now a successful 63-year-old writer whose second husband has passed away, has continued a friendship with her first husband, William. She’s surprised when he asks her join him to visit a newly discovered half sister in Maine (he’s remarried, after all), but they set off together on a somewhat awkward road trip to excavate his family’s history. It’s a quietly wonderful and wise story about, in part, aging, regret, loneliness, difficult people, and finding a measure of contentment in spite of it all. As Lucy puts it, “We do not know anybody, not even ourselves! Except a little tiny, tiny bit we do.” (Oct. 19)

Never by Ken Follett

The famed British author of Eye of the Needle (1978) and other epic novels weaves together seemingly disparate storylines into a long — it's 816 pages — complex and gripping international thriller. It includes a moderate Republican U.S. President Pauline Green who faces a tough-talking challenger from the far right, as well as foreign policy conflicts with China that could lead to world war; and a CIA officer in Africa trying to infiltrate the Islamic State (there’s a love story in there too). The tension builds in this tale that's swarming with spies and terrorists and full of political intrigue and threats of violence, some of it eerily plausible in our conflict-plagued world. (Nov. 9)

The Sentence by Louise Erdrich

A Native American woman in Minneapolis with a troubled past, Tookie is working at an independent bookstore focused on Native authors when she’s visited by the ghost of a white woman named Flora. In life, Flora was a frequent customer who'd immersed herself in Native culture; now she’s a creepy, menacing presence. But Tookie — our often rather humorous narrator — faces other challenges this year (the book is set from All Souls’ Day 2019 to All Souls’ Day 2020), including prickly interactions with her husband’s unmarried daughter, who moves in, along with her baby; the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic; and George Floyd’s murder, which throws the city into chaos. The main characters are haunted by mistakes from the past and their ancestries, even while Tookie is literally haunted by this troubling woman and trying to figure out how to escape from her grip (the word “sentence” has layered meanings in the novel). It’s an unlikely premise that works in the skilled hands of Erdrich, winner of the National Book Award for The Round House and the Pulitzer Prize for her last book, The Night Watchman. (Nov. 9)

Crossroads by Jonathan Franzen  

Yes, he’s the author some people love to hate, ever since he dissed Oprah two decades ago when she chose his novel The Corrections for her book club, suggesting her picks were too lowbrow for the likes of him. But he’s a fantastic writer, and Crossroads — the start of a trilogy dubbed A Key to All Mythologies — proves it once again. It’s the story of a dysfunctional (of course) family in the tumultuous Vietnam War-era, mired in unspoken interpersonal tensions. There's Russ Hildebrandt, an insecure, bummed-out assistant pastor in suburban Chicago; his wife Marion, floundering in her tottering marriage and weighted by past traumas; their college-age son Clem, considering joining up to fight in Vietnam; their daughter Becky, a popular high school student; and the youngest — brilliant, anxious Perry. The characters and their moral quandaries are all presented with authenticity and depth. It will be fascinating to see how the Hildebrandts' lives evolve in the sequels. (Oct. 5)

New installments in best-selling series

The Heron’s Cry by Ann Cleeves. OK, this isn’t a blockbuster series yet, but it’s second in the Two Rivers series by the best-selling British author that’s already being adapted for TV. It features detective Matthew Venn, whom we first met in 2019’s The Long Call, investigating the murder of a Dr. Nigel Yeo — who himself had been investigating the apparent suicide of a young local man. (Sept. 6) 

The Man Who Died Twice by Richard Osman. Osman’s 2020 cozy mystery, The Thursday Murder Club (read our excerpt), was a massive hit that sold some 1.4 million copies in Britain alone, with movie rights snapped up by Steven Spielberg. His latest again focuses upon the same four charming septuagenarian sleuths, residents in a luxury retirement village in England who meet once a week to contemplate cold murder cases. Their new caper involves stolen diamonds and a ruthless killer. (Sept. 28)  

The Judge’s List by John Grisham. Lacy Stoltz (first seen in The Whistler; this is her second book) meets a woman who’s convinced she knows who killed her father 20 years earlier. Stoltz is drawn into the hunt for his murderer, who turns out to be a serial killer who thinks he’s above the law. Actress Mary-Louise Parker narrates the audiobook. (Oct. 19)

Game On by Janet Evanovich. This is Evanovich’s 28th book (“Tempting Twenty-Eight,” she calls it) in the wildly popular Stephanie Plum series about the tireless bounty hunter battling bad guys in Trenton, N.J. As always, the author adds a heavy dose of humor to Plum’s escapades, which in this case involve a criminal computer hacker named Oswald Wednesday. (Nov. 2)

The Dark Hours by Michael Connelly. The fourth book in his series starring LAPD detective Renee Ballard, Connelly’s latest has Ballard teaming up with Harry Bosch to investigate a New Year’s Eve killing that may be related to an older unsolved case. (Nov. 9)

Mercy by David Baldacci. Atlee Pine returns for the fourth and last book in this series, still searching for her twin sister, Mercy, who was abducted in childhood. Pine faces danger as she finally learns the truth behind Mercy’s disappearance. Baldacci includes enough exposition that you don’t need to have read the previous books to follow the storyline — as is the case with most of the series listed here. (Nov. 16)

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell. Cornwell’s new Dr. Kay Scarpetta novel has Scarpetta back as chief medical examiner in Virginia and called upon by the White House to investigate the accident that caused the deaths of scientists who were working at a secret lab in outer space. (Nov. 30)

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