Whiskey When We're Dry

John Larison

No Exit, £8.99

Somewhere in the Wild West in 1885, 17-year-old orphan Jessilyn Harney tries to survive alone on her family’s homestead. Weary of fending off starvation and neighbours who want to take away her land, she disguises herself as a boy and sets off to find her brother, Noah, and bring him home. Noah happens to be an outlaw with a price on his head, so she blags a job with the sleazy governor’s militia, who are also hunting him down. It’s a tough journey through a harsh environment, but Jesse, who can shoot better than any of the men, meets a variety of characters and gets a few opportunities to explore her sexuality along the way. Larison imbues the romance and wide-open spaces of the classic western with modern gender and racial awareness, giving space to those left out of the classic Old West mythos, but the main draw is Jesse’s narrative voice, all folksy eloquence peppered with grit and determination.


Laura Sims

Tinder Press, £8.99

Sims, the author of four poetry collections, begins cranking up the tension on the very first page of her debut novel. Its unnamed narrator, a middle-aged academic who teaches a poetry class to young adults, lives on the same Brooklyn street as a movie star, identified only as the Actress, who has become the focus of her personal and professional disillusionment. Childless, separated, in danger of losing her job and angry with the “generic rich folk” flocking into her neighbourhood, she doesn’t so much wish the Actress harm as she wants to bask in the glow of her attention and feel part of her perfect life. As her obsession grows, Sims keeps us inside her stalker’s head the whole time, so that her unhappiness and resentment are fully understandable and the reader feels involved and even complicit in whatever may be about to happen. It’s a psychological thriller in all but name, and cultivates its atmosphere of foreboding brilliantly.

Plastic Emotions

Shiromi Pinto

Influx, £9.99

Outside her native Sri Lanka, the architect Minnette de Silva is little known, but she captivated author Shiromi Pinto, who based this fictional reimagining of her life on her writings and the reminiscences of people who knew her. It begins in 1949 in London, with Minnette being recalled to the newly independent Ceylon by her father, despite her distinction of being the first Asian woman to become an Associate of RIBA. Before she leaves, she implores the visionary architect Le Corbusier to visit her once more, and their long-distance affair is as central to Minnette’s life as it is to Pinto’s book. Both architects try to effect social change through their work, but both share the arrogance of belonging to a social elite who don’t fully understand the people they’re designing homes for. Even taken as a work of fiction, it’s a revealing study of a fascinating woman, the obstacles she faced and the painful lessons she had to learn.