Weekly Words About New Books in

Independent Bookstores

July 7, 2024

New in Paperback - Crime Thriller Set in Racially Torn Southern Town, and Spending Time With a Master of Literary Nonfiction

All the Sinners Bleed by S.A. Cosby. I remember finishing Cosby's previous book, Razorblade Tears, and thinking that I might have found an exciting new voice in crime fiction. The plot featured an unlikely pairing of two fathers - one black, one white - who set out to avenge the deaths of their partnered gay sons. Part revenge thriller, part social commentary, and all good writing, the book resonated on several levels and had me very excited about his new book. And Cosby doesn't disappoint - in fact, I think he's only gotten better. With the paperback release this week, All the Sinners Bleed will reach a new and appreciative audience and I get to sing its praises (again) in the bookstore where I work.

Here's the prmise: Racial tensions in a small Southern town impede a Black sheriff's determined search for a serial killer. That plot baseline runs throughout the book, as Sheriff Titus Crown and his deputies track the bad guy. But Cosby isn't content with just a police procedural, albeit an interesting one. He paints an evocative and gritty picture of Charon County, Virginia, and the simmering conflict between its White and Black communities. In the middle of all this is Crown, a former FBI agent who has returned to his hometown, been elected sheriff, and revamped a bigoted police force. A year into the job, a troubled young Black man is shot by a police deputy, fueling already strained race relations. Vowing to follow the truth wherever it leads, Crown investigates the incident, only to have it lead to a darker series of killings.

In its review, The Washington Post called the book "riveting" and went on to say, "What elevates this book is how Cosby weaves politically charged salient issues -- race, religion, policing -- through the prism of a serial murder investigation and the perspective of one of the most memorable heroes in contemporary crime fiction. . . Deeply moving and memorable."

Tabula Rasa: Volume 1 by John McPhee. Over seven decades, McPhee has set a standard for literary nonfiction that has earned him legendary status. His curiosity and writer's eye has led to writings on subjects as diverse as bark canoes, experimental aircraft, the Swiss Army, geophysical hot spots, and dissident art in the Soviet Union - and that's just a sampling. In this new collection, McPhee turns the spotlight on himself as he takes readers on a revealing review of his career, focusing on writings he never completed and explaining why.

In Tabula Rasa, McPhee opens his metaphorically cluttered desk drawer, reflecting wryly upon projects he once planned to do but never got around to - including people to profile and regions he meant to describe. And this is the first of a planned series of collections because the desk drawer is apparently quite full. As he describes it, Tabula Rasa is "an ideal project for an old man," which means fans can expect more to come. In the meantime, this first volume includes - among other gems - glimpses of a frosty encounter with Thornton Wilder, interrogative dinners with Henry Luce, the allure of western Spain, criteria in writing about science, fireworks over the East River as seen from Malcolm Forbes's yacht, the evolving inclinations of the Tower of Pisa, the islands among the river deltas of central California, teaching in a pandemic, and persuading The New Yorker to publish an entire book on oranges.

Writing about the book in the Los Angeles Times last year, Chris Vognar wrote, "It is telling that McPhee’s random exercise in notebook-emptying proves a more pleasant read than most writers’ fully formed projects . . . In writing Tabula Rasa, McPhee, a legend of what is now often called creative nonfiction, found a replenishment of another quality that can lead to a long life: fun."

Getting to Know a Rising Democratic Political Star

True Gretch: What I've Learned about Life, Leadership, and Everything in Between by Gretchen Whitmer. Talk about good timing! Who knew that the release of this short memoir from one of the Democratic party's rising stars would hit bookstore shelves amidst unprecedented political roiling and speculation. As various presidential scenarios play out, the name of the popular and intriguing Michigan governor remains front and center, and this book - while not overly meaty - provides a useful snapshot of her life and career. 

Many people outside the Midwest may have heard of Whitmer as the target of a failed 2020 kidnapping plot undertaken by right-wing groups unhappy with the governor's response to the pandemic. Whitmer's aggressive and early actions against Covid led to a state shutdown that undoubtedly saved lives but also angered many - including Donald Trump and his militant followers. The coronavirus also complicated matters when an aging dam broke under the strain of heavy rainfall during a long season of wet weather - a catastrophe officials labelled a “500-Year-Flood." Whitmer dealt with unprecedented crises like these while also waging a fierce fight to protect reproductive rights in Michigan, guided in part by her self-described motto in politics, which is to "get shit done." 

Readers of True Gretch will also be treated to numerous examples of Whitmer's sense of humor - a quality in short supply among politicians these days - and learn about her family and upbringing. It's of course an upbeat and flattering portrait, but the book does offer insights into her character and political experiences that are enlightening. I have a feeling that we'll all be hearing a lot more about Governor Whitmer in the coming weeks and that True Gretch will be a bestseller as well.

Know anyone who might enjoy this column every week? If so, would you consider forwarding them the link to this week's edition? If they like it, let them know they can email me at hutlandon@gmail.com to sign up. Thanks in advance - here's the link:


If you'd like to receive Hut's Place every week, email me at hutlandon@gmail.com and request to be added to the mailing list. I send the column every Sunday, and feedback and comment are always welcomed!

And rest assured - your e-mail will never be shared!


Hi, I'm Hut Landon, and I'm a bookseller in an independent bookstore in BerkeIey, CA.

My goal here is to keep readers up to date about new books hitting the shelves, share what indie booksellers are recommending in their stores, and pass on occasional news about the book world. 

I'm not into long, wordy reviews or literary criticism; HUT'S PLACE is meant to be a quick, fun read for book buyers. If you have any friends who you think might like receiving this column, simply click on "Forward this email" below and enter their email address. There is also a box to add a short message.


Many of you already have a favorite local bookstore, but for those of you without such a relationship,  you can click here to find the nearest indie bookstore by simply entering your zip code.