Rest assured, we understand the problem: long sultry days on the beach or the porch and seemingly longer stints in coffin-size airplane seats make crackerjack storytelling a necessity in summer books. We, too, look askance at book review editors who swear they read the same things during the summer as they do all year ’round, and wonder what “Gulag” is doing on the New York Times Book Review’s list of recommended summer reading. But the quest for page-turning momentum shouldn’t force readers to put up with crummy writing and cardboard characters, the kind of books that, like a jumbo bag of potato chips, feel good going down but leave you feeling gross afterward. Why should we have to resort to Michael Crichton or Danielle Steel in search of the common reader’s perennial request, a good story?
You can have it all — if by “it all” you mean great writing about believable, interesting people with plenty of exotic or historical color and terrific plots. Romance. Sex. Adventure. We’ve put together a collection of reviews spotlighting new literary titles in which you actually care what happens next. It’s true, crime and detection play a predominant role in many of these novels, but their authors know how to inject new life into what might at first seem like familiar setups — from a gang war in 1890s Alabama to a Buddhist policeman tracking a murderer through modern Bangkok. So go ahead, have some fun this summer. We promise you’ll still respect yourself in the fall.