Cover of David Baldacci's Book,

His commute is killer

David Baldacci's latest thriller, an ex-pirate gone straight, and more from the world of books

A glance at what VCU faculty and graduates are writing these days, beginning with …

A dangerous game

David Baldacci

Baldacci (B.A.’83; H.L.D.’01) sets “The 6:20 Man: A Thriller,” the most recent addition to his bestselling oeuvre, in the world of high finance, a milieu ripe for a story of power, corruption and murder. Travis Devine is a worker bee just starting out in the industry, with aspirations to the stratospheric wealth and privilege he sees from afar as he rides the 6:20 train to work each morning. When his ex-girlfriend is found dead, the cops show up — and so do threats to reveal secrets from his past in the U.S. Army, unless he agrees to be a mole for a shadowy investigation into his firm. His unwilling undercover work gets him entrée into the monied world of privilege he longs to join, but what he sees isn’t pretty. As if that weren’t enough, it turns out that Devine could be the killer’s next victim.

Slavery and social rebirth

Michael Lawrence Dickinson

Dickinson, Ph.D., an assistant professor of history at VCU, chronicles how enslaved people rebuilt culture and community amid oppression and cruelty while shaping our country in “Almost Dead: Slavery and Social Rebirth in the Black Urban Atlantic, 1680-1807.” Starting in the colonies through the end of the British Atlantic slave trade, he tells the stories of individuals such as Jeffrey Brace and brings the issue into the present by interviewing Brace’s descendants. 


Catherine Ingrassia  

Ingrassia, Ph.D., traces the notion of “domestic captives” — white Britons in confinement, be they soldiers, child laborers or women, even in the ruling class (as “property” of rich white men) — in “Domestic Captivity and the British Subject, 1660-1750,” drawing parallels with the concurrent slave trade that appears in popular fiction and prompting a new interpretation that puts this subtext into sharp focus. 

Books that inspire me

Catherine Ingrassia, Ph.D., is a professor and former chair of the VCU Department of English and interim dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. She has published seven books on 18th-century British literature, with a particular focus on female writers. Her most recent book is “Domestic Captivity and the British Subject, 1660-1750” (see above). 

Asking a literary historian to identify only one book that inspires them is like asking a parent to choose a favorite child. Fictional narratives written by Eliza Haywood motivate much of my scholarly work; a novel like “Fantomina” (1725) shaped genre, pushed boundaries and challenged gender norms. 

Clint Smith’s “How the Word is Passed: A Reckoning with the History of Slavery Across America” (2021) powerfully illustrates the need to understand and tell all our history.

But a book that inspired me early in life is Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “The Long Winter,” a loosely autobiographical novel about her family’s harrowing experience in 1880-81 in Dakota Territory. While I am now keenly aware of troubling implications and inaccuracies in Wilder’s oeuvre, as a child I was captivated by the Ingalls family’s resilience, perseverance and commitment to community, values that continue to inspire me.

An ex-pirate gone straight

R.S. Mellette  

Mellette (B.F.A.’85), a veteran of O.G. girl-power vehicle “Xena: Warrior Princess,” features two strong women in her YA space opera, “Kiya and the Morian Treasure,” that passes the Bechdel test par excellence. Kiya is an ex-pirate gone straight, now schlepping people between planets; her passenger is a galactic official’s daughter. They fight off attackers en route, plus secure hidden riches and peace in the cosmos. Easy-peasy. 

Ostensibly for kids

Jonathan Tune and Eleanor Doughty  

K, a frog, and little brother J (a tadpole, natch) take a trip in “K’s Car Can Go Anywhere!: A Graphic Novel.” As they careen through the countryside, no obstacle can stop them — literally, as the car adapts to unlikely challenges. Ostensibly for kids, Tune (B.F.A.’13) and Doughty (B.F.A.’13) encourage a spirit of inventiveness, adventure and appreciation for life’s little pleasures.