Claire North’s Touch (Redhook, $26) is as masterful as her debut, “The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August.” In this fast-paced, imaginative novel, an entity simply known as Kepler can move from person to person, wearing his or her skin for a while, living each life while its host’s consciousness “sleeps.” When someone tries to assassinate Kepler but kills its host instead, Kepler goes on the hunt to find out why someone wants it dead. A cat-and-mouse game ensues until Kepler finally faces down its nemesis. There is plenty of conspiracy and intrigue in this deftly paced novel, but North also poses subtle questions about identity and love. In the end, it is not power that Kepler and its nemesis are fighting over but the right to be known.
In Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances (Morrow, $26.99), Neil Gaiman warns readers that “there are monsters in these pages” but to keep in mind that “where there’s a monster, there is also a miracle.” And this collection of stories and poems doesn’t disappoint. Beautiful, haunting little tales like “The Man Who Forgot Ray Bradbury” and “The Thing About Cassandra” evoke our wonder at the myths and imaginations of our childhoods. “The Truth is a Cave in the Black Mountains” explores the uncanny connection between a dwarf and his guide and their greed for gold, or perhaps revenge. But it is “Nothing O’Clock,” a story written about Doctor Who and his battle with the Kin, that sums up the spirit of the collection. Amy Pond’s journey with the Doctor is whimsical and wondrous, bordering on silly before it topples into the monstrous encounter with the Kin. Gaiman has warned us about the monsters, but then come magic and miracles. And love.
Hexadrine junkie S.P. Doyle wants to take down the corrupt bank that employs him in Jeremy Robert Johnson’s genre-bending novel Skullcrack City (Lazy Fascist; paperback, $12.95). Doyle gets busy when an attempt to score more Hex goes hideously wrong and one of his suppliers get chomped by a giant, skull-cracking monster. It turns out this creature is the handiwork of a surgeon linked to a medical company financed by Doyle’s employer. The company is bent on enslaving the human race — and it’s up to Doyle, his pet turtle and a one-eyed woman to stop them. Johnson’s smart, witty prose keeps the novel from toppling into parody even as it satirizes corporate greed. Doyle is an empathetic character whose addictions and struggle to maintain a human connection are both haunting and humorous.
Nancy Hightower is the author of “Elementari Rising.”