This Week’s Must Reads: September 2, 2011

From Jeff Sharlet’s brilliant portraits of the religious fringe to David Liss’ enchanting novel featuring a mysterious Lord Byron, here are 5 new books to read now.

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The Takedown by Jeffrey Robinson

The true story behind the effort to stop a drug cartel responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine coming into the United States.

True-crime expert Jeffery Robinson’s fifth investigative exposé is the tale of an odd couple that paired up to take down Columbia’s notoriously powerful Norte Valle cartel. Working out of a cramped Long Island office 2,500 miles from their suspects, federal prosecutor Bonnie Klapper and Special Agent Romedio “Rooney” Viola spent 13 years tracking and eventually taking down the entirety of the brutal gang. Not so bad for a mom of two and West Virginia native, both initially deemed crazy by their superiors for taking on such a seemingly impossible task. Robinson recounts their audacious task effortlessly, making the thriller a gripping end-of-summer read.

Triple Crossingby Sebastian Rotella

A rip-roaring novel set on the Mexican border about an agent whose morals are put to the test.

As a newly hired Border Patrol Agent, Valentine Pescatore must learn to handle a baton, dodge the sea of pelted rocks, and outrun the stream of illegal aliens. But this is nothing compared to the biggest challenge he must face: His moral conscience. While chasing down a suspect, Valentine crosses The Line, putting his job in jeopardy. Now, Valentine must submit to local authorities, thereby agreeing to work as an informant for one of Mexico’s most dangerous crime families. In this gut-wrenching suspense novel, Sebastian Rotella tells the story of a man who must decide how far he can go working alongside cold-blood killers and thugs before his deafening conscience overrides.

Paradise Lust by Brook Wilensky-Lanford

A charming account of the people who quixotically search for the fabled Garden of Eden.

One of the most enduring and mysterious places in the Bible, the Garden of Eden has fascinated people around the world since ancient times. Those who believe that it is a real place are referred to as Eden seekers, a diverse and prominent group of personalities that Brook Wilensky-Lanford describes in her lively new book. She set off on her research after discovering that her great-uncle had once planned to hire a plane to fly over Mesopotamia in search of the spot. The desire to put Eden on the map is a timeless quest to discover our origins, all told in charming detail.

The Twelfth Enchantment by Davis Liss

One miserable woman encounters Lord Byron and her life changes forever in this delightful fictional recreation of English history.

One disaster after the next leads Lucy Derrick to believe she is destined for misery. Readers can’t help but sympathize as Lucy struggles to free herself from her wretched uncles, forced marriage, and feelings of guilt and sorrow brought on by the passing of her sister and subsequently, her father. When Lucy is all but ready to embrace her sorrow, a distraught, but charming Lord Byron stumbles into the picture with a message that could change the course of her life forever. Author Davis Liss’s juxtaposition of a modern day metamorphosis with Lucy’s ever-changing destiny is indeed metaphoric and enthralling for readers.

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Sweet Heaven When I Die by Jeff Sharlet

Veteran journalist Jeff Sharlet delivers sharp portraits of the wacky, fanatical, and just plain fascinating characters.

Jeff Sharlet’s subjects are first sketched physically, and then, over the course of a few pages, fleshed out in lush three-dimensional detail—a lifetime in a dozen pages, a biography distilled to its purest elements. His newest book, Sweet Heaven When I Die, is a collection of compact, highly accessible profiles that zoom in to examine various denizens of the American religious fringe. Though each of his subjects has devoted their life to a highly specific cause, Sharlet manages to portray them with utmost sympathy, examining the motives that animated them and the forces that shaped them, so that the reader can understand precisely how they came to inhabit their respective niches. Even when faced with subjects whose views lie well outside the mainstream—say, Rob Luce, who peddles a singular brand of militant youth evangelism—Sharlet impresses with his ability to mine the common humanity that lingers in even the most radically minded thinkers.