King Zeno

New Orleans, 1918. The birth of jazz, the Spanish flu, an ax murderer on the loose. The lives of a traumatized cop, a conflicted Mafia matriarch, and a brilliant trumpeter converge―and the Crescent City gets the rich, dark, sweeping novel it deserves.

From one of the most inventive writers of his generation, King Zeno is a historical crime novel and a searching inquiry into man’s dreams of immortality.

New Orleans, a century ago: a city determined to reshape its destiny and, with it, the nation’s. Downtown, a new American music is born. In Storyville, prostitution is outlawed and the police retake the streets with maximum violence. In the Ninth Ward, laborers break ground on a gigantic canal that will split the city, a work of staggering human ingenuity intended to restore New Orleans’s faded mercantile glory. The war is ending and a prosperous new age dawns. But everything is thrown into chaos by a series of murders committed by an ax-wielding maniac with a peculiar taste in music.

The ax murders scramble the fates of three people from different corners of town. Detective William Bastrop is an army veteran haunted by an act of wartime cowardice, recklessly bent on redemption. Isadore Zeno is a jazz cornetist with a dangerous side hustle. Beatrice Vizzini is the widow of a crime boss who yearns to take the family business straight. Each nurtures private dreams of worldly glory and eternal life, their ambitions carrying them into dark territories of obsession, paranoia, and madness.

In New Orleans, a city built on swamp, nothing stays buried long.

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, San Francisco Chronicle Lit Pick, Paris Review Staff Pick. A January Pick by SalonTown and Country, Southern Living, and LA Magazine

“Sprawling but speedy…a rich, contemporary canonization of the Crescent City at the turn of the century.”
—Sloane Crosley, Vanity Fair

“A novel that roils with the inseparable energies of creation and destruction…Rich, a resident of New Orleans, throws his arms wide open to history and to the city…The novel, like a city, somehow coheres, as Rich never loses control of the riotous raw material. The close third-person point of view rotates among three central figures, providing pattern and the promise of convergence; the mysterious ax murders serve as a narrative through-line; the canal exerts centripetal and allegorical force; and the extraordinary American yearning of the characters, as in Stephen Millhauser’s ‘Martin Dressler’ or E. L. Doctorow’s ‘The Waterworks,’ is a constantly propulsive force…This is a novel with a high body count, but it has far too much energy ever to feel morbid.”
—Chris Bachelder, The New York Times Book Review

King Zeno is the New Orleans novel we’ve been waiting for…It reminded this reviewer of John Dos Passos’ U.S.A. trilogy, with its clever melding of real and fictional events, its snippets of newspaper articles and astonishingly memorable characters.”

“Rich smears his lively prose with enough mud, blood, sweat and Oysters Vizzini grease that readers should keep a stack of napkins handy…Rich pushes the story ahead at a ragtime pace, alternating passages of florid description – particularly when Izzy is in one of his musical reveries – and bare-knuckle action…’King Zeno,’ a novel of underground forests, towns within towns and recurring nightmares suddenly come to life, is a page-turning reminder that in this venerable city, some buried secrets aren’t meant to stay that way.”
Houston Chronicle

“Like a meal at one of New Orleans’ famed eateries, Nathaniel Rich’s new novel, ‘King Zeno,’ offers a groaning board of tasty literary treats…a gritty, panoramic portrait of the Big Easy…full of sharply rendered minor characters, gallows humor and finely observed descriptions…a remarkable achievement.”
The Washington Post

“Rich tells a complicated story with great skill and style, sketching the mental lives of a dozen major characters and bringing a vanished era to colorful and realistic life.”
The Wall Street Journal

“Rich uses music, race, and historical details in ways that will likely spark comparisons to E.L. Doctorow’s multifaceted Ragtime. It’s a nicely paced detective thriller, clever on corporate corruption and police procedure…marked by offbeat humor and up-tempo writing.”
Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“[A] vibrant tale of music, madness, and murder.”
Entertainment Weekly

“[A] roiling genre-blender…combining a lyrical impressionistic style with a sure-handed grasp of the historical moment…a heady mix of literary thriller and high-end historical fiction.”

“[In] this dark, panoramic thriller…Rich excels at character development, painting vivid, interior portraits.”
The Seattle Times

“Fans of historical crime fiction: Look no further than King Zeno…With its memorable cast of character and historical flourishes, King Zeno is a winner.”

“Rich’s spirited third novel contrasts the luminous early years of jazz with a number of particularly American darknesses…the New Orleans setting is well-drawn and memorable and Rich excels at immersing the reader in the narrative.”
Publishers Weekly

“In this deft historical thriller, Rich seamlessly blends fact with fiction as three characters attempt to secure their legacies in the shadow of a gruesome murder, with post-World War I New Orleans as the backdrop…The period details—most taken directly from the historical record—are expertly deployed…[an] absorbing…brainy thriller.
Library Journal

“Wildly imaginative…an artful blend of humor, suspense, and noir.”
The National Book Review (Hot Book of the Week)

“Meticulously timed and plotted . . . Unforgettable characters . . . To read King Zeno is to see the city through Rich’s sharply observant yet loving eyes . . . It takes time to learn a city, to love it, to make a mark on it, and Rich has done that in King Zeno.”
Susan Larson, The Advocate (New Orleans)

“An intriguing interplay between lurid action and a contemplative gaze across the millennia…gives King Zeno its distinctive tone.”
The Boston Globe

“Rich knows well the city, its people and the racial hierarchies that underpin their life and this story…Rich has written a nicely paced detective thriller, with a twist, propped up by the realities of a society that is racist, yet multicultural in many ways. His offbeat humor and lively writing make King Zeno a good read on both levels.”
Chris Smith, Winnipeg Free Press

“Those who have studied jazz history will find themselves right at home in Nathaniel Rich’s new novel, King Zeno…Rich, who lives in New Orleans, has given his city yet another reason for local celebration.”
—Robert Fulford, 
The National Post (Canada)

“Action packed . . . Rich has a feel for New Orleans life.”
San Francisco Chronicle

Odds Against Tomorrow

New York City, the near future: Mitchell Zukor, a gifted young mathematician, is hired by a mysterious new financial consulting firm, FutureWorld. The business operates out of an empty office in the Empire State Building; Mitchell is employee number two.

He is asked to calculate worst-case scenarios in the most intricate detail, and his schemes are sold to corporations to indemnify them against any future disasters. This is the cutting edge of corporate irresponsibility, and business is booming.

As Mitchell immerses himself in the mathematics of catastrophe—ecological collapse, war games, natural disasters—he becomes obsessed by a culture’s fears. Yet he also loses touch with his last connection to reality: Elsa Bruner, a friend with her own apocalyptic secret, who has started a commune in Maine.

Then, just as Mitchell’s predictions reach a nightmarish crescendo, an actual worst-case scenario overtakes Manhattan. Mitchell realizes he is uniquely prepared to profit. But at what cost?

At once an all-too-plausible literary thriller, an unexpected love story, and a philosophically searching inquiry into the nature of fear, Nathaniel Rich’s Odds Against Tomorrow poses the ultimate questions of imagination and civilization. The future is not quite what it used to be.

An NPR Best Book of the Year, New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice, New Yorker Book to Watch Out For, and winner of the New Orleans Library Foundation’s Best Fiction Award.

“Any sentence from Rich is worth reading, any thought worth pondering in this ambitious novel of ideas.” ―The New York Times Book Review

“The first great climate change novel…an irresistible literary thriller…Rich mines the terror of our times.” ―Rolling Stone

“The opposite of disaster, a knockout of a book by a young writer to keep your eye on from now on…As terrifically described as any of the best science fiction we have.” ―Alan Cheuse, NPR’s All Things Considered

“Scarily prescient and wholly original.” ―Elissa Schappell, Vanity Fair

“Rich’s descriptions of the vagaries of both nature and human nature are stark, fresh, and convincing, full of surprise and recognition as both good comedy and good terror must be.” ―Cathleen Schine, The New York Review of Books

“Nathaniel Rich has turned disaster porn into high art.” ―Annalee Newitz, Slate

“Mitchell’s intensely fraught journey from man of intellect to man of action is one the reader will not soon forget.” ―Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“If the books to come are half as good as Nathaniel Rich’s novel Odds Against Tomorrow, there may be a silver lining to the end of the world.”
The Santa Barbara Independent

“One of the best rewritings of the ark myth.”
The New York Observer

The Mayor's Tongue

The Mayor’s Tongue is a bold, vertiginous debut novel that unfolds in two complementary narratives, one following a young man and the other an old man. The young man, Eugene Brentani, is a devotee of the reclusive author and adventurer Constance Eakins, now living in Italy. The old man is Mr. Schmitz, whose wife is dying; confused and terrified, he longs to confide in his dear friend Rutherford. But Rutherford has disappeared, and his letters, postmarked from Italy, become more and more ominous as the weeks pass.

In separate but resonating story lines, both men’s adventures take them from New York City to the mountainous borderlands of northern Italy, where the line between imagination and reality begins to blur and stories take on a life of their own. Here we are immersed in Rich’s vivid, enchanting world, full of captivating characters—the despairing Enzo, who wanders looking for a nameless love; the tiny, doll-like guide, Lang; and the grotesque Eakins. Over this strange, spectral landscape looms the Mayor, a mythic and monstrous figure considered a “beautiful creator” by his townspeople, whose pull ultimately becomes irresistible.

From a young writer with exceptional promise, this refreshingly original novel is a meditation on the frustrations of love, the madness of mayors, the failings of language, and the transformative power of storytelling.

A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice

“A beautifully written novel…hugely inventive and playful.”

The Mayor’s Tongue is a spare masterpiece of postmodernism, an incisive fable whose myriad threads of plot and thought take the inhibitions of our era to task and make Rich’s first novel a New York Trilogy for the new millennium.”
The Boston Globe

“Dizzyingly rich with surprises…Creative force in The Mayor’s Tongue is generative and fantastical, but it’s also terrifying, with every storyteller trapped in a world of his own creation. In Rich’s case, that world is playful, exuberant, and gloriously weird.”
—Celeste Ng, Fiction Writers Review

“The book is original and wildly ambitious; his inventiveness is joyous.”
The Guardian

“Imaginatively folkloric…the experience of sharing in its feverish tussling with ideas is consistently exuberant.”
The Los Angeles Times Book Review

“Rich delivers a daring, wonderfully weird first novel. The book is divided into two narratives…The stories never cross explicitly, but an electricity arcs between them, inducing an effect as haunting as the reality-collapsing yarns of Paul Auster.”

“Nathaniel Rich spent most of his twenties re-shaping the Great American Novel to fit the 21st century…This is a novel with a big brain and a cheeky wink by an author who could well become one of the defining writers of his generation.”
The Sunday Telegraph [UK]

“When Rich writes of his characters, their affections, their impulses and failings, he writes generously and movingly…Surprising friendships, small intimacies of fidelity and kindness, large gestures of joy: The Mayor’s Tongue does all these so well, pointing the way to Nathaniel Rich’s promise as a fiction writer.”
The New York Times Book Review (Editors’ Choice)

The Mayor’s Tongue is a playful, highly intellectual novel about serious subjects—the failure of language, for one, and how we cope with that failure in order to keep ourselves sane.”
The Washington Post

“Shockingly strong debut from gifted writer..There is little beyond exuberance to betray The Mayor’s Tongue as a debut novel…Rich demonstrates an almost impish delight in confounding rather than elucidating, systematically disfiguring the barrier between fiction and reality…The novel’s foremost delight is its measured, nearly imperceptible descent into the realm of fairy-tale. There is no rabbit hole to fall through—reality and fairy-tale co-exist, sharing the same borders, the same characters, and the same heartbreak for jilted lovers.”
Paste Magazine

“Rich’s debut novel is so ambitious in scope, mature in its reach and voluptuous in detail that it feels like the work of a much older writer…an extraordinary, hallucinatory saga.”
—Arena Magazine

“Nathaniel Rich, the debut author of The Mayor’s Tongue, deserves high praise for…attempting to strike his own path with a fresh voice and ambitious storyline…One cannot finish The Mayor’s Tongue without having been impressed by it.”
The Times of London

“Nathaniel Rich’s first novel is a coming-of-age story like Pinocchio in reverse: Instead of growing up to become a real boy, the hero of The Mayor’s Tongue grows up to find out that he’s not real at all. If you’re a Pynchon or Fowles fan, it’s a novel for you.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Rich has constructed nothing less than a creation myth that attempts to explain why people, throughout history, have been so enamored with telling stories in the first place…a meticulously structured piece of literary architecture… Rich’s access to emotional truth, coupled with his obvious technical gifts as a writer, offers the reader a reward of its own.”
The Barnes & Noble Review 

“Nathaniel Rich has written an intoxicating fairy tale…[He] challenges the reader to leave behind the world they know and understand and walk alongside changeling guides through a foreign landscape. It’s a bit like watching an early David Lynch film, trying to discern an objective reality in a world engulfed with hallucinations, deception, and the blindness of love.”
The Buffalo News

“Contained in The Mayor’s Tongue is a mystery, a book within a book, a love story (sort of), a bildungsroman (definitely), and an ode to storytelling that manages to avoid pretension, all told in a highly comic, self-consciously literary voice. All of which demands of its reader a serious involvement and a light heart. Like all great reads, attention must be paid — and it shall be rewarded.”
—Jonathan Messinger, Stop Smiling

“Rich is already one of today’s literary superstars. His expertise is clear. He knows how to tell a good story, and, more importantly, he knows how to tell a smart one. The monstrous Eakins, swollen with the power he wields over his characters, is a frightening spectacle to any reader with aspirations of writing, and Rich manages to weave a rather abstract theme—the barriers of language, and how much of what we communicate is simply made up on one or both ends of the conversation—through two quite distinct stories…The Mayor’s Tongue is a fascinating and engaging read.”
The Columbia Spectator

San Francisco Noir

All cities have their secrets, but none are so dark as San Francisco’s, the city that Ambrose Bierce famously described as “a point upon a map of fog.” With its reputation as a shadowy land of easy vice and hard virtue, San Francisco provided the ideal setting for many of the greatest film noirs, from classics like The Maltese Falcon and Dark Passage to obscure treasures like Woman on the Run and D.O.A., and neo-noirs like Point Blank and The Conversation. In this guide to more than forty film noirs and the locations where they were shot, readers visit the Mission Dolores cemetery, where James Stewart spies Kim Novak visiting Carlotta’s grave in Vertigo; the Steinhart Aquarium, where Orson Welles and Rita Hayworth rendezvous in The Lady from Shanghai; and Kezar Stadium, where Clint Eastwood, in Dirty Harry, captures the serial killer, Scorpio, in a blaze of ghastly white light.

A San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year

San Francisco Noir is a rare book that lets you step into a dream. The dream is film—all the seductive phantoms of film noir that have haunted us for decades–and by discovering so carefully and describing so memorably the loci of all these fantasies, Nathaniel Rich has written a fascinating work of criticism disguised as a guided tour around a great city. He puts you right in the middle of some wonderful movies—and what better travel book could there be?”
—Martin Scorsese

“Unlike any work of film criticism I have ever seen…a beautifully simple idea and it works very well…We begin to have a delightfully spooky feeling of dreams becoming reality, and vice versa.”
—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

San Francisco Noir is a guidebook that works on two levels: as a survey of important genre landmarks in the eponymous city and, more important, as a smart, highly readable critical overview of some of the most interesting movies in the noir tradition. With this book Nathaniel Rich establishes himself as a film critic and historian to be reckoned with.”
—Richard Schickel

San Francisco Noir is both guide book and dream book. Following a meandering path from the Steinhart Aquarium to the site where the Paper Doll used to be, tracking remnants of the past while evoking what has irrevocably vanished, Nathaniel Rich charts the point where screen life and waking life intersect.”
—Geoffrey O’Brien

“Nathaniel Rich’s smart, incisive, and inclusive book will appeal to lovers of noir—and of San Francisco—all around the country. A wonderful guidebook to that city’s cinematic netherworld, it makes you want to get lost in the films even as you find your way through the city.”
—Nicholas Christopher, author of Somewhere in the Night: Film Noir and the American City

“This handy guide is nicely double-barreled: use it to unearth buried film noir treasures, as well as some of San Francisco’s most intriguing mystery spots.”
—Eddie Muller, author of Dark City: The Lost World of Film Noir

“Highly, refreshingly literary.”
San Francisco Chronicle