Somewhere around the fifth grade, we spent an entire summer reading the Three Investigators series. We’ve been devoted summer readers ever since, exultantly idling away afternoons that would have been more productively spent at part-time jobs, Boy Scouting, volunteer service, or just about anything else. The more formulaic the entertainment, the greater our enjoyment. Mysteries, thrillers, sci fi, spy novels, even the occasional romance—as long as it’s accompanied by a spot of shade and a pitcher of ice water, we’ll happily devour it.
While it’s a little too soon to declare “amputee fiction” a genre unto itself, this is definitely a growing trend. All five of the titles below feature amputee protagonists, and four of the five were published in the last 12 months. We admit we haven’t read them all, but it’s only July. There are at least six more lazy weeks to go before summer ends.
Click the book-cover image to get ordering info for each title. More recent amputee-themed books are reviewed here.
We Are All the Same in the Dark / Julia Heaberlin
Only one interesting ever happened in Odette Tucker’s north Texas town—a grisly murder, long unsolved, that seems to haunt everybody who lives there. Odette’s own personal memento of the crime is limb loss: She ran in front of a car while fleeing the scene. Now, 10+ years later, she’s a rookie deputy who lacks the common sense to let this tragic case stay cold. Once Odette warms it up, things quickly progress from hot to scalding.
Released last summer to near-universal raves, We Are All the Same has crowd-pleasing plot twists and a cinematic sweep. If you only have time for one of the books in this post, make it this one.
Fatal Scores / Mark de Castrique
In this, the eighth entry in the Blackman Agency mystery series, amputee PI Sam Blackman tries to figure out why a local environmentalist dropped dead while taking water samples from a local river. The stream is still recovering from decades’ worth of industrial pollution, but that’s not all that is rotten in Blackman’s hometown of Asheville, NC. There’s also embezzlement, fraud, adultery, and lots of other malfeasance afoot, along with some seriously bad blood between rival musicians.
Blackman is foul too, as per usual—still simmering about his experiences in the Iraq War and his (mis)treatment after losing a leg in combat. Bilious and world weary, he nonetheless makes for good company as he mops up another mess.
Divine Justice / Joanne Hichens
Launched several years ago in South Africa, this series is newly published in the United States. It stars Rae Valentine, an ex-junkie turned private detective and motivational speaker. Serially marginalized as a woman, person of color, amputee, recovering addict, and rape survivor, Rae has a deep well of compassion for the broken souls she encounters. Unfortunately, the same trait leaves her prone to manipulation and double-crossing. And worse.
Reviewers compare author Joanne Hichens to the gritty potboilerist James Ellroy. Expect plenty of violence and monstrous deeds, with Rae’s thin reed of humanity hanging on for dear life.
The Big Thrill
Arcadia Project Trilogy / Mishell Baker
The first book in this series, Borderline, was a 2016 finalist for the prestigious Nebula Award, bestowed annual to the year’s best sci-fi/fantasy novel. The series stars Millie Roper, a bilateral amputee with borderline personality disorder. The two conditions are inextricably linked—Millie lost her legs downstream of a failed suicide attempt spurred by her tenuous mental health—and her rehabilitation of mind and body helps drive the action in this intricately plotted saga, in which the exterior world mirrors the fragmented reality inside Millie’s head.
While the second book (Phantom Pains) and series finale (Impostor Syndrome) were well reviewed, Borderline is generally considered the best and most personal entry.
Books, Bones & Buffy
Before I Saw You / Emily Houghton
Alfie’s loud and outgoing; Alice is a shy introvert. He makes her laugh; she forces him to get real. He masks his depression with bravado; she doesn’t try to fake it. They’re the odd couple at a long-term recovery facility, where Alice is recovering from extensive burns and Alfie is rehabbing after limb loss. The gimmick here is that their courtship takes place completely out of each other’s view—Alice is too ashamed of her burn scars to let herself be seen.
You probably think you can guess where it all leads, but this novel’s not so simple to predict. The love story that really counts here is not the one between the protagonists. It’s each character’s attempt to must the self-love and self-acceptance that’s necessary to heal.