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August 27, 2021

George Ernsberger
Posted 8/27/21

A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage (Bloomsbury).

The title’s a bit of a trick, I suppose. But the subtitle owns up: this is (yet …

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August 27, 2021

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A Brief History of Motion: From the Wheel, to the Car, to What Comes Next by Tom Standage (Bloomsbury).

The title’s a bit of a trick, I suppose. But the subtitle owns up: this is (yet another) revealing history of civilization, beginning when evolution has barely finished our creation, and from an original point of view. Pretty much the column’s favorite way of making a book. What’s under examination and introduction is not motion, really, but transport and transportation, really beginning at just picking knuckles up and walking. And lugging—the transport of goods and such, a branch of economic history, is also a prominent and revelatory scene in this tapestry, and had much to do with creating not only the world as we know it and live in it now, but also us, as we are. Standage has a sharp eye for the revelatory event, and is a writer of light-handed wit as well as deep intelligence.

Vortex: An FBI Thriller by Catherine Coulter (Custom House).

Seems silly to refer to Coulter as neglected, or underestimated, or any such thing—this terrific, big new novel has, as usual, already burst onto the Times bestseller list (at #2)—but she’s prolific, always has been, and in a couple or three (depends on how you count) categories; so if not the world, maybe the column, might sometimes take her for granted. These FBI books comprise one of the two series she’s especially active in just now. Coulter’s writing is fluid and fast, plotting intricate—she loves two plots, each substantial on its own, and intertwined, as here. (Or if, like most of America, you already knew all that, well, here’s her new one, yo!)

Ice and Stone by Marcia Muller (Grand Central).

And maybe another such—similar not so much as a writer, but as a widely celebrated author not often enough celebrated here. Muller is a Mystery Writers of America Grand Master, which is evidence not merely of persistence, but of consistent very high quality. We have here the 34th of her longest running series: Sharon McCone, the San Francisco private eye. It’s set in motion by the murder of two Native American women; McCone, sought out by the women’s tribe, goes out of the city and under cover in northern California, with the tribe, to discover the murderer. Atmosphere is, of course, compelling in this one as always, and the ingenuity of Muller’s plotting never requires praise.

Where the Truth Lies by Anna Bailey (Atria).

First novel, a thriller, and probably not a budding series, but surely the first strong shoots of what we can hope will be a thriving career. Not a startlingly original premise—a teenager disappears in the woods—but sound, even classic; it provides for much variation, and is worked out with originality; surprises are plenty, and credible. But the writing, here, vivid without insistence and graceful, especially engenders hope for more to come.

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