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Pauls Toutonghi's second book is Evil Knievel Days. Born in Seattle to an Egyptian father and Latvian mother, Toutonghi has written a novel about a 20-something version of himself that ranges from Butte Montana to Cairo, and is spiced with rich culinary information and meditation, right from its epigraph -- "If you live long enough with your mother, you will learn to cook" and its very first sentence: "Egyptian cooking is folk magic."
Los Angeles is famous for its crime fiction. Gregg Hurwitz, now on his twelfth novel, self-identifies as a writer in the tradition of Michael Connelley, Robert Crais, and Walter Mosely, and The Survivor is perhaps his best so far. He told me he doesn't always know where he's going. He has an image that starts him off, and decides how it is all to end, but lets the characters bring about their own doom and salvation as he writes. His plots are intricate and flawless, nonetheless. In this case the opening: a man on an 11th-story ledge about to commit suicide, until he hears gunshots from inside the building; obviously, he is not afraid to die, and he goes in to fight. Hurwitz also writes for TV and film, and he is taking over the Batman Dark Knight series for DC Comics.
Rubén Martínez's Desert America: Boom and Bust in the New Old West is a big picture look at the entire region, although he focuses in on specific places -- like elite Marfa, Texas and its impoverished county -- to illustrate the varieties of desert experience. One review said it was "a necessary chronicle of a weird corner of America"-- or, as we call it, home.