The story of the American Sackler family, billionaire philanthropists who made the lion's share of their vast fortune by being owners of Purdue Pharma which manufactured OxyContin and spawned the US opioid epidemic is a fascinating one. In his book Empire of Pain, the investigative journalist Patrick Radden Keefe writes about a dynasty which has consistently refused to accept any responsibility for the crisis and in fact turned to other markets when their game was up in the States.
Some time ago I watched the Neon series The Undoing, which came from a book called You Should Have Known, by Jean Hanff Korelitz. It was so good it prompted me to read her latest novel – The Plot. Working with books as I do, this was tailor-made for me – about a failed writer who appropriates someone else's idea, which brings him fame and fortune, until he's found out and hunted down by someone who knows what he's done. It's great fun.
I often like a bit of history with my fiction and Red Traitor, by Owen Matthews, has that in spades – set in 1962 during the Cuban Missile Crisis, when the Russians sent four nuclear-capable submarines towards the American blockade in the Caribbean, with each of the commanders having total autonomy over what happened next; and a KGB operative hunting down a traitor believed to be at the highest echelon of Soviet power, who may well be useful in alerting the Americans to what's headed their way.
Lastly – exciting news for those of us who read and adored All the Light We Cannot See (which could well have headlined this article) – I read it back in 2014 when it first came out and it easily tops the list of the best books of the last decade for me): Anthony Doerr's Cloud Cuckoo Land is a truly astonishing set of narratives that are almost impossible to describe in any coherent way (well, for me at least) but if you're a Doerr believer, this is compulsory reading. I don't know how he does it, but the man is a genius.
Joan Mackenzie is Whitcoulls' book manager. The 2021 Whitcoulls Kids' Top 50 Books has just been announced: www.whitcoulls.co.nz.