Jen Michalski (editor)
City Sages: Baltimore (CityLit)
Michalski includes most of the usual suspects in this anthology of local lit. The likes of Edgar Allan Poe and H.L. Mencken are here, but it's the contemporary writers who make this book such a gem. Pieces by Lia Purpura, Susan McCallum-Smith, Rosalia Scalia, Geoffrey Becker, and Rupert Wondolowski—who all walk among us—hold their own in this esteemed company and point to evidence of a thriving literary scene. And Madison Smartt Bell's Poe tribute, "Small Blue Thing," written from the perspective of an ornery crow that's been mistaken for a raven, is a hoot.
Layover in Dubai (Knopf)
Fesperman, an ex-foreign correspondent for The Sun, sharpens his storytelling acumen to cut through various global issues in his latest thriller. As usual, it's set in some exotic, chaotic locale, and Dubai proves to be an ideal spot for excess, intrigue, and nefarious corporate shenanigans. Sam Keller, a big pharma auditor, accompanies a co-worker on a business trip and stumbles unwittingly into a prostitution ring run by the Russian mob. The coworker turns up dead, and, in short order, Keller becomes a wanted man, his support network crumbles, and he's set adrift in a boomtown growing faster than a time-lapse photograph. He lands in the household of a traditional family that includes (of course!) a beautiful young woman chafing at the constraints of Islamic conservatism and her strict father, a local policeman. Fesperman builds tension and contrast with various subplots that buttress the overall story, and he deftly weaves a looming countdown into the tale for added suspense, as well as snippets of Dostoevsky for literary cachet. And Fesperman gets extra credit for not shying from the harsh conditions faced by Dubai's migrant labor force, an issue that usually gets lost, or conveniently forgotten, amidst the glitzy sprawl.
Mark Osteen & Frank Graziano (editors)
Music at the Crossroads: Lives & Legacies of Baltimore Jazz (Apprentice House)
This much-needed history of the local jazz scene covers a lot of ground, ranging from chapters on pioneers such as Cab Calloway and innovators such as Gary Bartz to accounts of the city's saxophone tradition and the lively Pennsylvania Avenue and Left Bank Jazz Society scenes. Some of its structure is a little confusing (the sax chapter could use some additional editing) and there are a few surprising omissions (Gary Thomas gets barely a mention), but the inclusion of a comprehensive listing of Left Bank shows—Coltrane's last gig was a Left Bank show at the Famous Ballroom on May 7, 1967—and a selection of rare photos make this a worthy resource.