Red meat for Welsh cultists, but a heavy load for anybody else.

SKAGBOYS

Once more into the ditch: Welsh revisits the economically depressed, heroin-sick slums of Edinburgh in this hefty prequel to Trainspotting (1993).

Much like that book, this one is a collection of episodic stories that roughly cohere as a novel, written mostly in Scottish dialect and illuminating the despair of its characters as Thatcher-era Great Britain disassembles the nation’s safety net. Again, the lead character is Mark Renton, a philosophical young man who seems poised to rise above his lower-middle-class station until heroin (i.e., skag) implodes him. Not long after he starts using, he’s dropped out of university and wants to quit drugs but not very badly—in one heartbreaking scene he admits to his girlfriend that he’s more interested in his relationship with heroin than with her. Shifting among various characters’ perspectives, Welsh shows how rapidly addiction sank Mark and his friends, but Welsh is no moralist, and he’s just as likely to mine their lives for humor as pathos. Desperate for consistent fixes, they pursue one harebrained scheme or other—a stint working as mules on a ferryboat goes particularly poorly—and their freewheeling banter shows that if nothing else, the drugs haven’t erased their personalities. Welsh’s themes are repetitive, and there is no reason why this book couldn’t be half as long. But it’s marked by some virtuosic set pieces. In one scene, an addict watches a group of boys drop a puppy down a garbage chute, and his distressing (and heavily metaphorical) trip into the Dumpster encapsulates the junkie’s journey with equal parts horror and comedy. And a lengthy rehab journal by Mark is a witty, fiery, joyously vulgar vision of life in detox, showing how his better self slowly emerges. But as we know from Trainspotting, such moments of redemption rarely last.

Red meat for Welsh cultists, but a heavy load for anybody else.

Pub Date: Sept. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08873-1

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.

THE MIDDLESTEINS

From Attenberg (The Melting Season, 2010, etc.), the deeply satisfying story of a Chicago family coming apart at the seams and weaving together at the same time.

Former lawyer Edie Middlestein has always been a large presence, brilliant as a lawyer, loving as a mother, shrewish as a wife. Since early childhood, food has been her private if not secret passion. The novel is organized according to Edie’s fluctuations in weight, and the descriptions of her sensual joy in the gluttony that may be killing her are often mouthwatering. Sixty-ish Edie is obese and ravaged by diabetes. When her pharmacist husband, Richard, leaves her shortly before she’s scheduled for an operation, Edie’s children are outraged. Thirty-one-year-old teacher Robin is a fearful near alcoholic who has avoided intimacy since a disastrous experience in high school. Ironically, her new self-proclaimed hatred of her father opens her to the possibility of a relationship with her geeky neighbor Daniel, a gentle soul with a hidden but strong spine, not unlike Robin’s older brother Benny. Benny is happily married to Rachelle, a woman of fierce protectiveness who initially denies Richard all access to his grandchildren to punish him for his desertion. Is Richard a heartless, selfish man, or is he correct that Edie left him years before he left her? A little of both. All these characters feel more than one emotion at a time, and all are more than they first seem. Edie is an overbearing matriarch in her family, but a lovable saint to the owner of her favorite Chinese restaurant. Richard is a schlemiel, except that he is capable of real love. While the novel focuses intensely on each member of the family, it also offers a panoramic, more broadly humorous, verging-on-caricature view of the Midwestern Jewish suburbia in which the Middlesteins are immersed, from the shopping centers to the synagogues. But as the Middlesteins and their friends move back and forth in time, their lives take on increasing depth individually and together.

A sharp-tongued, sweet-natured masterpiece of Jewish family life.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4555-0721-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

The evocation of “Useless, by James Joyce” attests to the humor and ambition of the novel, as if this were a Joyce-an remix...

TELEGRAPH AVENUE

An end-of-an-era epic celebrating the bygone glories of vinyl records, comic-book heroes and blaxploitation flicks in a world gone digital.

The novelist, his characters and the readers who will most love this book all share a passion for popular culture and an obsession with period detail. Set on the grittier side in the Bay Area of the fairly recent past (when multimedia megastores such as Tower and Virgin were themselves predators rather than casualties to online commerce), the plot involves generational relationships between two families, with parallels that are more thematically resonant than realistic. Two partners own a used record store that has become an Oakland neighborhood institution, “the church of vinyl.” One of the partners, Archy Stallings, is black, and he is estranged from his father, a broken-down former B-movie action hero, as well as from the teenage son he never knew about who has arrived in Oakland from Texas to complicate the plot. The other partner is Nat Jaffe, white and Jewish, whose wife is also partners with Archy’s wife in midwifery (a profession as threatened as selling used vinyl) and whose son develops a crush on Archy’s illegitimate son. The plot encompasses a birth and a death against the backdrop of the encroachment of a chain superstore, owned by a legendary athlete, which threatens to squash Archy and Nat’s Brokeland Records, all amid a blackmailing scheme dating back to the Black Panther heyday. Yet the warmth Chabon (The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, 2000, etc.) feels toward his characters trumps the intricacies and implausibilities of the plot, as the novel straddles and blurs all sorts of borders: black and white, funk and jazz, Oakland and Berkeley, gay and straight. And the resolution justifies itself with an old musicians’ joke: “ ‘You know it’s all going to work out in the end?’ ” says one character. “ ‘No....But I guess I can probably fake it,’ ” replies another.

The evocation of “Useless, by James Joyce” attests to the humor and ambition of the novel, as if this were a Joyce-an remix with a hipper rhythm track.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-149334-8

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political...

HOSTAGE

Wiesel takes us on a journey through dream, memory and especially storytelling in his latest novel, which concerns Shaltiel Feigenberg, who in 1975, is captured and imprisoned for 80 hours in a basement by two captors.

Feigenberg is politically unimportant and practically unknown before his capture, but soon thereafter he becomes front-page news, though his plight is reported in wildly different ways by the world press. His captors represent divergent political realities. One, Luigi, is an Italian political revolutionary with no particular animus against Jews, while the second, Ahmed, is a passionate advocate for Palestine with an intense hatred for the “Zionist cause.” Perhaps predictably, a “bad cop–good cop” dynamic develops as they tend to Feigenberg, Luigi gradually freeing him from restraints while Ahmed rails with fanatic fervor against all that Feigenberg represents to him. Luigi and Ahmed are motivated by “humanitarian” concerns—they demand that three Palestinian prisoners be freed in exchange for Feigenberg’s freedom—rather than materialistic ones. Feigenberg is mystified by his captivity, for he’s simply a professional storyteller with a special fondness for spinning his tales to children and the elderly. This forced period of darkness ironically provides him with an extended period of enlightenment, as he has time to reflect on his life—the death of his grandmother at Auschwitz, his frequently absent but observant father, his initial meeting with Blanca (the woman who eventually becomes his wife), and the growing Communist sympathies of his older brother. He begins to frame the narrative of his life in much the same way he frames the stories he makes up to entertain others. Even the Israeli government—a government that notoriously does not negotiate with terrorists—gets involved in trying to track down the elusive captive.

Nobel Peace Prize winner Wiesel continues to remind us of the brilliant possibilities of the philosophical and political novel. 

Pub Date: Aug. 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59958-2

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2012

Chet, who continues as narrator in this exciting fifth installment of the series (The Dog Who Knew Too Much, 2011, etc.),...

A FISTFUL OF COLLARS

The Little Detective Agency can’t afford to turn down a case, because financial problems continue to dog them.

Bernie Little may be a clever detective, but he can’t handle money and has a bad habit of destroying Porsches. Chet, a canine school dropout, is a loyal partner who thinks Bernie is the greatest. Luckily, Bernie and Chet are just picking out their latest used Porsche when they’re offered a new job. The mayor’s office of their small California town hires the pair to keep watch over Thad Perry, the star of a locally made movie that the mayor hopes will turn the area into a little Hollywood. Thad has a wild-child reputation, a drug habit and a bodyguard who’s as loyal as Chet but a lot bigger. Before Bernie’s reporter girlfriend, Suzie, moves to Washington, D.C., for a new job, she passes on a rumor that Thad has a history in the area. When people start to die, Bernie starts digging into the past to determine whether Thad is involved in crimes past or present. Dealing with three murders, blackmail, drugs, crooked cops and the need to keep Thad showing up for work every day is more than enough work for the clever pair, but they must end the carnival of crime as well.

Chet, who continues as narrator in this exciting fifth installment of the series (The Dog Who Knew Too Much, 2011, etc.), often struggles to understand what the humans are up to but always gets it right in the end.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6516-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A fictional debut for a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, born and raised in West Virginia, whose love for the state,...

A KILLING IN THE HILLS

A tough prosecutor who’s trying to make a difference in the lives of West Virginians suddenly finds her own life in shambles.

Whatever plans Bell Elkins made for herself as a child growing up near the town of Acker’s Gap ended when her older sister killed their father. From that point on, Bell was brought up in various foster homes. After intelligence and determination got her through law school, she and her husband, fellow attorney Sam Elkins, found high-paying jobs in Washington until Bell, tired of their shallow lifestyle, returned with their daughter Carla to West Virginia. When Carla, who’s changed from a delightful little girl to a sulky teen, witnesses the murder of three old men at a local fast-food joint, her love-hate relationship with Bell becomes worse, especially since she recognizes the killer as someone she saw at an alcohol- and drug-laced party she can’t mention to her mother. Bell and her longtime friend Sheriff Nick Fogelsong have been fighting a losing battle against the drug kingpin whose dealers are feasting on the misery of the poor and often-desperate population. So it’s only natural that they suspect these killings are drug-related. In addition, Bell has to decide if she wants to prosecute a mentally challenged young man accused of killing a child he often played with. Even with her own life in danger, Bell won’t back down.

A fictional debut for a Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist, born and raised in West Virginia, whose love for the state, filled with natural beauty and deep poverty, pervades a mystery that has plenty of twists and turns and a shocking conclusion.

Pub Date: Aug. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-250-00348-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Not as ambitious as Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), but sharply observed and...

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THIS IS HOW YOU LOSE HER

From the author of Drown (1996), more tales of Dominican life in the cold, unwelcoming United States.

Eight of the collection’s nine stories center on Yunior, who shares some of his creator’s back story. Brought from the Dominican Republic as a kid by his father, he grows up uneasily in New Jersey, escaping the neighborhood career options of manual labor and drug dealing to become an academic and fiction writer. What Yunior can’t escape is what his mother and various girlfriends see as the Dominican man’s insatiable need to cheat. The narrative moves backward and forward in time, resisting the temptation to turn interconnected tales into a novel by default, but it has a depressingly unified theme: Over and over, a fiery woman walks when she learns Yunior can’t be true, and he pines fruitlessly over his loss. He’s got a lot of other baggage to deal with as well: His older brother Rafa dies of cancer; a flashback to the family’s arrival in the U.S. shows his father—who later runs off with another woman—to be a rigid, controlling, frequently brutal disciplinarian; and Yunior graduates from youthful drug use to severe health issues. These grim particulars are leavened by Díaz’s magnificent prose, an exuberant rendering of the driving rhythms and juicy Spanglish vocabulary of immigrant speech. Still, all that penitent machismo gets irksome, perhaps for the author as well, since the collection’s most moving story leaves Yunior behind for a female narrator. Yasmin works in the laundry of St. Peter’s Hospital in New Brunswick; her married lover has left his wife behind in Santo Domingo and plans to buy a house for him and Yasmin. Told in quiet, weary prose, “Otravida, Otra Vez” offers a counterpoint to Yunior’s turbulent wanderings with its gentle portrait of a woman quietly enduring as best she can.

Not as ambitious as Díaz’s Pulitzer Prize winner, The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao (2007), but sharply observed and morally challenging.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-59448-736-1

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted,...

DEAD ANYWAY

Nothing in Knopf’s reflective, quietly loopy Hamptons mysteries starring Sam Acquillo and Jackie Swaitkowski (Ice Cap, 2012, etc.) will have prepared his fans for this taut, streamlined tale of a man investigating his own murder.

The hit man who invades the Cathcarts’ upscale home in Stamford, Conn., tells Florencia Cathcart that if she doesn’t write down the answers to five questions, he’ll kill her husband. When she complies, he shoots them both anyway. Florencia dies, but Arthur merely hovers in a coma for months. Convinced upon his return to life that his killer’s been monitoring his progress with a view to finishing him off, he persuades his neurologist sister, Evelyn, to have him declared dead. She agrees, although she’s signing on to a long list of potential charges for conspiracy and insurance fraud, and Arthur, once he’s erased from the grid, is free to assume the identity of one Alex Rimes and go after the hit man and his employer. He tires easily, he limps badly, and his vision is poor, but his skills as a freelance researcher turn out to be surprisingly useful, though he can’t imagine why anyone would order the execution of either himself or Florencia, who owned a successful insurance agency. The trail to the killers leads through a wary arrangement with a retired FBI agent, an elaborate precious-metals scam and a society party to die for before Arthur finally confronts his quarry in a sequence that manages both to satisfy readers’ bloodlust and to point toward a sequel.

An absorbing update of the classic film, D.O.A., that finds its author so completely in the zone that not a word is wasted, and the story seems to unfold itself without human assistance.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-57962-283-1

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

What may seem to some like paradise offers no happy endings in this fine novel.

SAN MIGUEL

The prolific author’s latest is historical, not only in period and subject matter, but in tone and ponderous theme.

The 14th novel from Boyle returns to the Channel Islands off the coast of California, a setting which served him so well in his previous novel (When the Killing’s Done, 2011). Some of the conflicts are similar as well—man versus nature, government regulation versus private enterprise—but otherwise this reads more like a novel that is a century or more old, like a long lost work from the American naturalist school of Frank Norris and Theodore Dreiser, both of whom saw mankind caught in mechanistic forces and nature as something other than the Eden of innocence so often romanticized. The novel tenuously connects the stories of two families who move, 50 years apart, to the isolation of the title island, in order to tend to a sheep ranch. For Marantha Waters, the symbolically fraught pilgrimage with her husband and daughter in 1888—on “New Year’s Day, the first day of her new life, and she was on an adventure...bound for San Miguel Island and the virginal air Will insisted would make her well again”—is one of disillusionment and determination. Even the passage of time feels like a loss of innocence: “The days fell away like the skin of a rotten fruit”; “The next day sheared away like the face of a cliff crashing into the ocean and then there was another day and another.” The ravages of the natural world (and their own moral natures) take their toll on the family, who are belatedly succeeded in the 1930s by a similar one, as newlyweds anticipate their move west as “the real life they were going into, the natural life, the life of Thoreau and Daniel Boone, simple and vigorous and pure.” Reinforcing their delusions is national press attention, which made much of their “pioneering, that is, living like the first settlers in a way that must have seemed romantic to people inured to the grid of city streets and trapped in the cycle of getting and wanting and getting all over again.”

What may seem to some like paradise offers no happy endings in this fine novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-670-02624-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Elliptical and often oracular, but also remarkably penetrating and humane. The most illuminating analogies are not to other...

THE BEAUTIFUL MYSTERY

From the Chief Inspector Gamache series , Vol. 8

A prior’s murder takes Quebec’s Chief Inspector Armand Gamache and his sidekick, Inspector Jean-Guy Beauvoir, inside the walls of the monastery of Saint-Gilbert-Entre-les-Loupes.

The Gilbertine order, long extinct except for the two dozen brothers who live on an island apart from the rest of the world, enforces silence on its members. In the absence of speech, a raised eyebrow or averted gaze can speak intense hostility. Now someone has found a new way to communicate such hostility: by bashing Frère Mathieu, the monastery’s choirmaster and prior, over the head. Gamache and Beauvoir soon find that the order is devoted heart and soul to Gregorian chant; that its abbot, Dom Philippe, has recruited its members from among the ranks of other orders for their piety, their musical abilities and a necessary range of domestic and maintenance skills; and that an otherworldly recording the brothers had recently made of Gregorian chants has sharply polarized the community between the prior’s men, who want to exploit their unexpected success by making another recording and speaking more widely of their vocation, and the abbot’s men, who greet the prospect of a more open and worldly community with horror. Nor are conflicts limited to the holy suspects. Gamache, Beauvoir and Sûreté Chief Superintendent Sylvain Françoeur, arriving unexpectedly and unwelcome, tangle over the proper way to conduct the investigation, the responsibility for the collateral damage in Gamache’s last case (A Trick of the Light, 2011, etc.), and Beauvoir’s loyalty to his two chiefs and himself in ways quite as violent as any their hosts can provide.

Elliptical and often oracular, but also remarkably penetrating and humane. The most illuminating analogies are not to other contemporary detective fiction but to The Name of the Rose and Murder in the Cathedral.

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-65546-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Minotaur

Review Posted Online: July 22, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Earnest and life-affirming, but a bit too tame.

THOSE WE LOVE MOST

A year in the life of a family that suffers a tragic loss.

Margaret is gardening, while ruefully reflecting on the knowledge that her husband, commercial real estate exec Roger, has been having an affair. Indeed, at that moment, Roger is in Florida, in his mistress Julia’s arms. Margaret and Roger’s daughter, Maura, is walking her three children to school when she receives an intriguing text to which she must respond. In that instant, everything changes: Her oldest son, James, his bike zigzagging in and out of school traffic, is hit by a teenage driver, Alex. James lingers for a week and then dies. Roger, whose ardor for Julia has cooled as he faces retirement and old age, must now spend more time at home as Margaret assumes their devastated daughter's parenting and household duties. Maura's husband, Pete, who never outgrew his college drinking habits, is struggling to accept his son’s death, but the crisis also brings home the increasing distance between him and Maura. As she gradually fights her way back from despair, Maura must cope with the guilt of knowing that at that crucial second she was distracted, taking her eye off James, she was texting another man. Exacerbating her anguish, Alex has been holding a silent nightly vigil outside her house. Told from Margaret’s, Maura’s and Roger’s vantage points, an accretion of daily details depicts how a typical upper-middle-class family in the Chicago suburbs copes with a major trauma. Woodruff does not explore the edgier areas her subject matter suggests. For the most part, the main characters resist their baser impulses, and the novel is somewhat duller as a result.

Earnest and life-affirming, but a bit too tame. 

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4178-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Voice/Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Like Mary Cassatt, Lippman studies families with a different eye than her male contemporaries, showing the heartbreaking...

AND WHEN SHE WAS GOOD

Lippman (The Most Dangerous Thing, 2011, etc.), who specializes in tales of feckless parents and their luckless kids, puts a madam at the center of her latest dysfunctional family.

At first, nothing could be more conventional than the Lewis family saga. Helen’s father, already married with two children to his credit, knocks up her mother, Beth, a 19-year-old carhop. He moves in with Beth but hangs around his ex-wife Barbara enough to give Helen a half sister, Meghan, only six months younger. As Beth and Barbara tussle over worthless Hector, he focuses on tormenting Helen, telling her that she has “a nothing face,” breaking her record albums and forcing her to get a job that interferes with her schoolwork. It’s while waitressing at Il Cielo that she meets Billy, the owner’s stepson, who lures her to Baltimore with promises of marriage. Instead, he turns her out, making her earn money to feed his drug habit by doing lap dances at a local strip club. That’s where she meets Val Deluca, whose red hair matches his fiery temper. Val offers Helen a nice house and a better class of client, all for doing what she’s already doing. He also gives her the chance to be something she’d never dreamed of: a mother. That’s when Helen’s tale goes off the beaten path. Before he learns about Helen’s delicate condition, Val is jailed for murder, and Helen reinvents herself as Heloise Lewis, running the business at a level Val had never achieved. She recruits college girls with delicately worded ads for escorts and serves clients who include state legislators, all while presenting herself as a lobbyist for the Women’s Full Employment Network. But when another suburban madam turns up dead, Heloise realizes that the safe, comfortable life she’s crafted for herself and her beloved son, Scott, in affluent Turner’s Grove is at risk.

Like Mary Cassatt, Lippman studies families with a different eye than her male contemporaries, showing the heartbreaking complexity of life with those you love.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-170687-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Power, lust and moral ambiguity combine for an all-American explosion of fictional fireworks.

LIVE BY NIGHT

The acclaimed mystery writer again tries his hand at historical fiction, combining period detail from the Prohibition era with the depth of character and twists of plot that have won him such a devoted readership.

Though this novel serves as a sequel to The Given Day (2008), it can be read independently of Lehane’s previous historical novel and is closer in its page-turning narrative momentum to his more contemporary thrillers such as Mystic River (2001). Its protagonist is Joe Coughlin, the morally conflicted youngest son of a corrupt Boston police official (oldest brother Danny was protagonist of the previous novel and makes a cameo appearance here). One of the more compelling characters ever created by Lehane, Joe is a bright young man raised in an economically privileged Irish household who turned to crime as a teenager because “it was fun and he was good at it.” He’s the product of a loveless marriage, for whom “the hole at the center of his house had been a hole at the center of his parents and one day the hole had found the center of Joe.” Among the ways he tries to fill that hole is through love and loyalty, both of which put him at odds with the prevailing ethos of the gang bosses among whom he finds himself caught in the crossfire. He ultimately builds a bootlegging empire in Tampa, backed by a vicious gang lord whose rival had tried to kill Joe, and he falls in love with a Cuban woman whose penchant for social justice receives a boost from his illegal profits. (“Good deeds, since the dawn of time, had often followed bad money,” writes Lehane.) Neither as epic in scope nor as literarily ambitious as its predecessor, the novel builds to a powerful series of climaxes, following betrayal upon betrayal, which will satisfy Lehane’s fans and deserves to extend his readership as well.

Power, lust and moral ambiguity combine for an all-American explosion of fictional fireworks.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-000487-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A captivating and absorbing read.

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SUTTON

A “non-fiction novel” that takes us far beyond Willie Sutton’s clever one-liners about banks and deeply into his life.

Born in Irish Town in Brooklyn, Willie never quite fit into his own family. His father was a taciturn blacksmith at a time when automobiles were starting to become the rage, and Willie’s brothers had an unaccountable hatred for their younger sibling. Willie was smart and sensitive but came of age during some parlous economic times and considered banks and bankers the symptom of life as a rigged game. Moehringer also depicts Willie as a hopeless romantic who falls deeply in love with Bess Endner, daughter of a rich shipyard owner. After the brief exhilaration of a robbery at the shipyard, abetted by Bess, Willie and his cronies are caught and sentenced to probation, and thus begins a life on the outside of social respectability. By the 1930s, Willie is the most famous bank robber in the country, known in part for his gentility and the way in which he approaches his craft. He’s never loud or violent but instead devoted to artful disguises and making clean and quiet getaways (hence his nickname, the Actor). Not everything works smoothly, of course, for he’s incarcerated for many years, but he ironically becomes something of a folk hero for breaking out of several prisons. His final release, at Christmas in 1969, following a 17-year stretch in the slammer, has him retracing his past in the company of a reporter and photographer. Moehringer cleverly presents the antiphonal voices of Willie in the present (i.e., at the time of his release) and Willie in the past to give a rich accounting of his life, including his love for the works of Plato, Aristotle, Lucretius, Freud, Jung and Joyce. Whatever else you can say about Willie, in prison he got an excellent education.

A captivating and absorbing read.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4013-2314-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Hyperion

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

An entertaining historical soap opera.

WINTER OF THE WORLD

From the Century Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Follett continues the trilogy begun with Fall of Giants (2010) with a novel that ranges across continents and family trees.

It makes sense that Follett would open with an impending clash, since, after all, it’s Germany in 1933, when people are screaming about why the economy is so bad and why there are so many foreigners on the nation’s streets. The clash in question, though, is a squabble between journalist Maud von Ulrich, née Lady Maud Fitzherbert—no thinking of Brigitte Jones here—and hubby Walter, a parliamentarian headed for stormy times. Follett’s big project, it seems, is to reduce the bloody 20th century to a family saga worthy of a James Michener, and, if the writing is less fluent than that master’s, he succeeds. Scrupulous in giving characters major and minor plenty of room to roam on the stage, Follett extends the genealogy of the families introduced in the first volume, taking into account the twists and turns of history: If Grigori Peshkov was a hero of the Bolshevik Revolution, his son Volodya is a dutiful soldier of the Stalin regime—dutiful, but not slavishly loyal. Indeed, most of the progeny here spend at least some of the time correcting the mistakes of their parents’ generation: Carla von Ulrich becomes a homegrown freedom fighter in Germany, which will have cliffhanger-ish implications at the very end of this installment, while Lloyd Williams, son of a parliamentarian across the Channel, struggles against both fascism and communism on the front in the Spanish Civil War. (Lloyd’s a perspicacious chap; after all, even George Orwell needed time and distance from the war to gain that perspective.) Aside from too-frequent, intrusive moments of fourth-wall-breaking didacticism—“Supplying weaponry was the main role played by the British in the French resistance”—Follett’s storytelling is unobtrusive and workmanlike, and he spins a reasonable and readable yarn that embraces dozens of characters and plenty of Big Picture history, with real historical figures bowing in now and then. Will one of them be Checkers, Richard Nixon’s dog, in volume 3? Stay tuned.

An entertaining historical soap opera.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-525-95292-3

Page Count: 960

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A familiar war story, but told with verve and sturdy, biblical intonations.

WILDERNESS

A wounded Civil War veteran reckons with thieves, racism and the torments of his past.

Weller’s debut novel alternates between 1864 and 1899 to follow the life of Abel Truman, who fought for the Confederacy before moving to the Pacific Northwest. Much of the action in the Civil War chapters focuses on the Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia, a particularly bloody affair, and Weller relates the action in disarmingly visceral detail, blasted faces, spilled bowels and all. That violence is paralleled by Abel’s own unhappy past, in which his infant daughter and wife died in quick succession. In the 1899 chapters, Abel is living an isolated life with his dog before he falls afoul of a pair of thieves working their way down the Pacific Coast. The alternating chapters essentially make for two redemption stories—the first a chronicle of Abel’s awareness of the folly of racism and the futility of war, the second a tale of human capacity for not just survival, but heroism. Weller relates all this in flagrantly Faulkner-ian language, thick with nature imagery and long sentences that strive to swallow the world whole: “The sun was bright in the leafed trees, upon grass slick with caught rain, and the man-filled road was as protean and indomitable as a river flowing seaward.” Weller’s command of this style is sometimes shaky, at times obscuring plot points or overdramatizing particular moments. And the linguistic finery serves a fairly simplistic fable on kindness and brotherhood. (Abel Truman’s very name hints at how morally uncomplicated the protagonist is.) But Weller’s finer moments are marked by some spectacular sentences: He finds an unlikely beauty in the violence-torn settings, as when a bullet passes a soldier’s neck “like the first quick kiss of a shy girl.”

A familiar war story, but told with verve and sturdy, biblical intonations.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-60819-937-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder...

THE MALICE OF FORTUNE

In this epic novel, Ennis gives ample evidence that political and religious corruption in early-16th-century Italy makes anything vaguely analogous look like Sunnybrook Farm.

At the center of this swirling unscrupulousness are several key historical figures, most notably the ruthless Duke Valentino of Romagna; his equally merciless father, Pope Alexander VI; a brilliant military engineer and draftsman named Leonardo da Vinci; and Niccolo Machiavelli, who bases his political theory of power on the machinations of the aforementioned duke. The first narrator in this labyrinthine tale is Damiata, whose son is kidnapped by his grandfather, the pope, in a raw display of power and privilege. (Perhaps it’s not necessary to mention that these are all Borgias, so in Renaissance Italy, raw displays of power are as common as segreto sauce.) Damiata is one of the “cortigiane oneste” or “honest courtesans”—or even more colloquially, a whore with the proverbial heart of gold. If political intrigue is not enough, there have also recently been some serial killings in which the victims were dismembered and decapitated. Enter Leonardo, who plots the found body parts on a map of Imola, the city in which the gruesome murders occurred, and discovers that the points correspond to those consistent with an Archimedean spiral. The narrative switches over to Machiavelli, who reminisces about the events of 1502 in which Italy is in turmoil, owing at least in part to the assassination of Pope Alexander’s beloved son, Juan, brother to the duke and lover of Damiata. Enlisting the help of Machiavelli in solving this murder mystery, she and Machiavelli become both lovers and fellow detectives.

This is a dense narrative, permeated by the sights, sounds and smells of Renaissance Italy, and one that can stand shoulder to shoulder with Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose, with which it is sure to be compared.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53631-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A viral spaghetti Western; it’s not Sergio Leone—or, for that matter, Michael Crichton—but it’s a satisfying confection.

THE TWELVE

From the Passage Trilogy series , Vol. 2

Cronin continues the post-apocalyptic—or, better, post-viral—saga launched with 2010’s The Passage.

The good citizens of Texas might like nothing better than to calve off into a republic and go to war with someone with their very own army and navy, but you wouldn’t want to wish the weird near-future world of Cronin’s latest on anyone, even if it means that Rick Perry is no longer governor. Readers of The Passage will recall that weird things have happened to humankind thanks to—sigh—a sort-of-zombie-inducing virus unleashed by, yes, sort-of-mad-scientists who were trying to create supersoldiers out of ordinary GIs. You may be forgiven for thinking of The Dirty Dozen at that point in the plot, but the “virals” in question are far badder than Telly Savalas and John Cassavetes. Enter Amy Harper Bellafonte, known Eastwood-esquely as The Girl from Nowhere, whose job it is to save humankind from its own dark devices. Amy’s chief butt-kicking sidekick is a virally compromised cutie named Alicia Donadio, “scout sniper of the Expeditionary,” who has a weirdly telepathic way of communicating with the baddies. The tale that ensues is pretty generic, in the sense that the zombie/virus/sword-and-sorcery genres allow only so much variation from convention; if you’ve seen the old Showtime series Jeremiah, then you’ll have a good chunk of the plot down. Cronin serves up a largely predictable high-concept blend of The Alamo and The Andromeda Strain, but his yarn has many virtues: It’s very well-paced. It’s not very pleasant (“A strong smell of urine tanged in her nostrils, coating the membranes of her mouth and throat”), but it’s very well-written, far more so than most apocalypse novels, and that excuses any number of sins. And it’s always a pleasure to see strong women go storming around as the new sheriffs in town in a world gone bad, even if they’re sometimes compelled to drink blood to get their work done.

A viral spaghetti Western; it’s not Sergio Leone—or, for that matter, Michael Crichton—but it’s a satisfying confection.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-345-50498-2

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

In this latest attempt to show Reacher enjoying every possible variety of conflict with his nation’s government short of...

A WANTED MAN

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 17

Will Jack Reacher ever make it to that woman in Virginia he was trying to reach in Worth Dying For (2010)? Not if all hell continues to break loose in Nebraska.

Shortly after an eyewitness sees three men enter a small concrete bunker outside an anonymous town and only two of them emerge, Reacher, “just a guy, hitching rides,” is picked up by a trio of corporate-sales types: Alan King, Don McQueen and Karen Delfuenso. In a tour de force that runs well over a hundred pages, Child cuts back and forth between the clues county sheriff Victor Goodman and FBI agent Julia Sorenson gather concerning the unidentified man in the green coat who was stabbed to death inside that bunker and the inferences Reacher is making about his traveling companions. For one thing, it’s clear that King and McQueen know each other better than either of them knows Delfuenso; for another, a good deal of what they casually tell him about themselves isn’t true. Just when you’ve settled down expecting Child to keep up this rhythm indefinitely, he switches gears in an Iowa motel, and Reacher’s left out of danger but on his own—at least until Sorenson arrives to arrest him and the two of them form a quicksilver partnership whose terms seem to change every time Sorenson gets another phone call from the cops or the Feds. After working every change imaginable on their relationship, Child switches gears again and sends them a bang-bang assault on a hush-hush installation that shows how far into America’s heartland its enemies have penetrated.

In this latest attempt to show Reacher enjoying every possible variety of conflict with his nation’s government short of outright secession, Child (The Affair, 2011, etc.) has produced two-thirds of a masterpiece.

Pub Date: Sept. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34433-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

A smart showcase of a half-century’s worth of pathways in fiction.

OBJECT LESSONS

THE PARIS REVIEW PRESENTS THE ART OF THE SHORT STORY

A compendium of The Paris Review’s short story hits, curated with the ambitious, aspiring writer in mind.

This collection showcases a handful of the literary innovations the journal has championed since its founding in 1953: There are gnomic, comic experiments by Donald Barthelme, Jorge Luis Borges and Lydia Davis, and minimalist works by Mary Robison and Raymond Carver. But the magazine’s heart is in domestic realism about the upper-middle class, and a few of the stories collected here are classics of the form. In “Bangkok,” James Salter pits an estranged couple against each other, calibrating the dialogue to show how eagerly one wants to wound the other. Evan S. Connell’s “The Beau Monde of Mrs. Bridge” inhabits the mind of a WASP aristocrat who’s both charming and blinkered to the wider world. And Ethan Canin’s “The Palace Thief” is a stellar exploration of morality and noblesse oblige, told through a prep school headmaster’s remembrance of a mendacious student. Each story is preceded with a brief appreciation by a well-known admirer—Sam Lipsyte introduces Robison, Dave Eggers introduces Salter, and so on. The introducers were clearly instructed to avoid high-flown encomiums and instead discuss the specifics of why each story is effective, so the book is rich with shoptalk. And though some intros ought to have spoiler alerts, most are engaging in their own right—Jeffrey Eugenides’ discussion of Denis Johnson’s “Car Crash While Hitchhiking” captures that story’s heartbreak and serves as an essay on the virtues of the form itself. As if to comfort readers who came to the book striving for literary fame, the collection closes with Dallas Wiebe’s “Night Flight to Stockholm,” a comic riff on literally giving an arm and a leg to score a Nobel Prize in literature—or just publication in The Paris Review.

A smart showcase of a half-century’s worth of pathways in fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 9781-250-00598-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Picador

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Those willing to overlook a series of implausible coincidences and wade through spoonfuls of sugar to get to the fairy-tale...

BLACKBERRY WINTER

Jio’s third book combines flashbacks with a contemporary romance and mystery set against a freak late-spring snowstorm in Seattle.

Newspaper reporter Claire Aldridge’s recovery from a personal setback has not gone well. She’s struggling at work, and her marriage to the love of her life, Ethan, is crumbling. As the couple appears to be heading for a breakup, Claire is given an assignment to write a feature story about a sudden snowstorm that blankets Seattle in May 2010. The story’s angle is to compare and contrast it to an identical storm that took place on the same day in 1933. While Claire works to find something interesting about the twin storms, she stumbles across the tale of a woman named Vera Ray, whose 3-year-old son, Daniel, disappeared during that 1933 storm. Vera, a decent and beautiful single mother, works at a ritzy hotel cleaning rooms, while trying to feed and clothe her little boy on pennies a day. Down to her last cent and unable to pay her rent, with no one to watch Daniel while she works, Vera leaves him alone in the apartment, but returns only to find him gone. The only clue to his disappearance is Daniel’s beloved teddy bear, found in the snow outside her apartment building. Kicked out of her apartment, she reports him missing to police, who dismiss the child as a runaway. The parallel stories of Claire, whose husband’s wealthy family owns the paper where they both work, and Vera, a down-on-her-luck beauty who stops at nothing while trying to find her child, are told in a compelling, but ultimately implausible method by former journalist Jio, who incorporates an overabundance of coincidence in this tale, all of which serve only to stretch the novel’s believability to the breaking point. Competently written, but the prose runs from saccharin to syrupy.

Those willing to overlook a series of implausible coincidences and wade through spoonfuls of sugar to get to the fairy-tale ending will be rewarded. This novel will enchant Jio’s fans and make them clamor for her next offering.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-452-29838-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Plume

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A dazzling document, beautifully if most idiosyncratically drawn; in this iteration, sure to become a collector’s item,...

BUILDING STORIES

A treasure trove of graphic artworks—they’re too complex to be called comics—from Ware, master of angst, alienation, sci-fi and the crowded street.

At 44, Ware (The Acme Novelty Library, 2005, etc.) is old enough to remember the day when you could stick a few dollars in an envelope, send it off and have a box full of strange goodness come to your door—a mystery box, that is, with puzzles, games, gag items and maybe one or two things worth keeping. Opening the oversized box that contains the many pieces of this book is a kindred experience: It’s not quite clear what’s inside, save for brightly colored paper in various forms, from foldout poster to ultrathin, small notebook to sturdy hardcover. Each package contains a story set, as the title suggests, in or near a teeming city. How the reader reads these seems not to matter, for the box is like a river, if that’s not too mixed a metaphor, into which one steps where the current seems safest; there’s no beginning to it and no end. One thing is clear: Not many of Ware’s characters are happy, even if they live in buildings that are overstuffed, like this box, with things. One young woman, for instance, recounts, “There were whole stretches of days where I never even left the house at all...never saw or talked to another human being...I just ordered pizzas, watched TV, and read books....Of course, I went grocery shopping, and a couple of times I walked to the ‘downtown’ of the suburb and ate dinner by myself, just for variety’s sake.” That’s a humdrum existence by any measure—especially the being stuck in the suburbs part—but considering the likely fate of the little honeybee, Branford, who is the hero of one of the little books, it’s not to be dismissed. And anyway, try finding a four-room flat for $650 a month in the city these days—one in a building that, in Ware’s surreal inventory, has seen 13,246 light bulbs, 725 roasted turkeys and 158,854 lighted matches—all of which add up, one suspects, to the number of ways in which one can read this puzzling tome.

A dazzling document, beautifully if most idiosyncratically drawn; in this iteration, sure to become a collector’s item, though one that begs for an easier-to-handle trade edition.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-375-42433-5

Page Count: -

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2012

Subtle, smart, compelling and blessed with both an intelligent storyline and top-notch writing, this book will grab readers...

SAY YOU'RE SORRY

Australia-based writer Robotham’s insightful psychologist Joe O’Loughlin once again tackles a tough case involving crimes that, at first blush, do not seem related.

Two young girls from a small English village disappear one night after attending a local funfair. Gorgeous, promiscuous Tash and quiet, athletic Piper had little in common, but became fast friends. Tash was brilliant, but underachieving. Her lower-middle-class family was troubled, and she attended a prestigious private school on scholarship, while Piper’s mismatched former-model mother and wealthy banker father lived in the area’s toniest neighborhood. While their disappearance initially sparked teams of searchers and outrage from the local citizenry, it simmered down once the police become convinced the girls were runaways. Three years later, the girls are still missing. In the meantime, O’Loughlin and his teenage daughter are trying to rebuild their fractured relationship, damaged by his estrangement from his wife. While attending a conference, police seek out the savvy profiler and ask for his help in solving a terrible double murder. As investigators wade through the blood bath of a crime scene, they learn that the home is connected to the girls’ disappearances. In fact, while the couple killed was no relation to Tash, the home in which it occurred was where she’d lived before she vanished. While police puzzle through the homicide, another body is found, but this time it’s an unidentified young woman found frozen in the ice of a nearby pond. O’Loughlin wants no part of either case but is soon sucked into helping police while racing against the clock to prevent another tragedy. Robotham’s writing ranges from insightful to superb and he has no qualms about burdening his hero, O’Loughlin, with not only a broken personal life, but also a broken body courtesy of a case of Parkinson’s, making him not only more human, but more likable.

Subtle, smart, compelling and blessed with both an intelligent storyline and top-notch writing, this book will grab readers from page one and not let go until the final sentence.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-316-22124-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Rising romance star Dahl delivers with this sizzling contemporary romance. (Warning: Steamy situations and straightforward...

CLOSE ENOUGH TO TOUCH

Hot, contemporary “opposites attract” romance hits the emotional high notes as two struggling people find themselves and each other.

Grace Barrett is forced by circumstances to accept a short-term home in Jackson Hole, Wyo., where she intends to keep to herself; not hard for the unemployed, purple-haired, prickly makeup artist who’s been exiled from Hollywood and is biding her time in the small town until a new job starts in Vancouver. Or so she thinks. Faced with her red-hot neighbor, Cole Rawlins, a born-and-bred Wyoming cowboy, Grace enters into a scorching-hot affair, determined to keep her emotions strictly off-limits. Cole is anything but the Wild West equivalent of a dumb jock, and he knows he’s playing with fire with his new city-girl neighbor. He’s spent time in Tinsel Town and experienced firsthand its shiny facade and its uglier underbelly. At first wary of Grace’s hard-edged persona, he’s still attracted to her in spite of himself, and he falls into her bed to distract himself as he heals from a potentially life-altering injury. Both Grace and Cole tell themselves—and each other—that it’s all about the sex, but it doesn’t take Cole long to figure out Grace’s diamond-hard exterior is simply a protective shell for a fragile emotional history, and he finds himself intrigued by and protective of the sensitive woman behind the hard-core image. When Grace takes a job with an area photographer that turns into an opportunity as a location scout, it opens her future in unexpected ways but sets up a collision of two worlds and confrontations from the past and the present for Grace and Cole.

Rising romance star Dahl delivers with this sizzling contemporary romance. (Warning: Steamy situations and straightforward sexual descriptions are well-done and integral to the plot, but some scenes are pretty graphic for a mainstream romance.) 

Pub Date: Aug. 28, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-373-77688-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harlequin

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

A sweet, heartwarming Christmas romance with engaging characters, a family-redemption arc and a winning seasonal charm that...

A FOOL'S GOLD CHRISTMAS

Mallery’s Christmas romance brings two lonely hearts together in the enchanting, magical community of Fool’s Gold.

When dancer Evie Stryker’s three brothers bring her to Fool’s Gold after a career-ending accident, she expects to stay a year at the most before escaping back into the real world. She certainly doesn’t expect to be seduced by the town, her new job as a dance teacher or her sexy neighbor—who also happens to be her eldest brother’s law partner. Dante Jefferson has a reputation as a player, so Evie knows that any relationship will be both short-lived and frowned upon by her family. Still, he’s sexy, sweet and fun, and Evie has her eyes wide open. She’ll be fine, just so long as she doesn’t fall in love. But neither Dante nor Evie is ready for the soul-searing attraction they share or the slow-building connection they feel to the town. Dante has sworn off love forever, but he’s moved by Evie’s obvious strength and resilience, as well as her emotional vulnerability when it comes to her family. Even so, the closer they get, the stronger the urge Dante has to push Evie away. When he realizes that their lighthearted entanglement has led to a full-fledged love affair, Dante bolts. But who can fight the pull of the woman he loves, the magical season he thought he hated or the pretty little town he just can’t get enough of?

A sweet, heartwarming Christmas romance with engaging characters, a family-redemption arc and a winning seasonal charm that will delight most genre fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 25, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-373-77702-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harlequin

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Whether recent or from his earliest period, these pieces show Alexie at his best: as an interpreter and observer, always...

BLASPHEMY

NEW AND SELECTED STORIES

Sterling collection of short stories by Alexie (Ten Little Indians, 2003, etc.), a master of the form.

The reader can take his or her pick of points where the blasphemy of Alexie’s title occurs in this multifaceted assemblage, for there are several solid candidates. One falls about two-thirds of the way in, when a hard-boiled newspaper editor chews out a young Indian writer who might be Alexie’s semblable. By that young man’s count, the editor had used the word “Jesus” thrice in 15 seconds: “I wasn’t a Christian and didn’t know much about the definition of blasphemy,” Alexie writes, “but it seemed like he’d committed some kind of sin.” In Alexie’s stories, someone is always committing some kind of sin, and often not particularly wittingly. One character, a bad drinker in need of help to bail out some prized pawned regalia, makes about as many errors as it’s possible to make while still remaining a fundamentally decent person; another laments that once you start looking at your loved one as though he or she is a criminal, then the love is out the door. “It’s logical,” notes Alexie, matter-of-factly. Most of Alexie’s characters in these stories—half selected and half new—are Indians, and then most of them Spokanes and other Indians of the Northwest; but within that broad categorization are endless variations and endless possibilities for misinterpretation, as when a Spokane encounters three mysterious Aleuts who sing him all the songs they’re allowed to: “All the others are just for our people,” which is to say, other Aleuts. Small wonder that when they vanish, no one knows where, why, or how. But ethnicity is not as central in some of Alexie’s stories as in others; in one of the most affecting, the misunderstandings and attendant tragedies occur between humans and donkeys. The darkness of that tale is profound, even if it allows Alexie the opportunity to bring in his beloved basketball. Longtime readers will find the collection full of familiar themes and characters, but the newer pieces are full of surprises.     

Whether recent or from his earliest period, these pieces show Alexie at his best: as an interpreter and observer, always funny if sometimes angry, and someone, as a cop says of one of his characters, who doesn’t “fit the profile of the neighborhood.”

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2039-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Grove

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Where earlier novels provide a better introduction to Hole, this one best takes the full measure of the man.

PHANTOM

The internationally popular detective series by the Norwegian author builds to a blockbuster climax.

The Nesbø phenomenon has transcended “next Stieg Larrson” status. In practically every comparison except books sold (and, with millions to date, Nesbø’s catching up), he’s superior to his late Swedish counterpart: more imaginative, better plotting, richer characters, stronger narrative momentum, more psychological and philosophical depth. No, he doesn’t have an androgynously attractive tattooed girl, but he does have Harry Hole: long an Oslo detective who specialized in (increasingly gruesome) serial killers, now a recovering alcoholic involved in some shadowy pursuits in Hong Kong while trying to reclaim his soul. Only the most powerful lure could bring Harry back to the dangers and temptations he faces back home, and that lure is love. Readers of earlier books (and some back story is necessary to feel the full impact of this one) will remember his doomed relationship with Rakel and the way he briefly served as a surrogate father to her son, Oleg. That innocent boy has now become a junkie and an accused murderer in a seemingly open-and-shut case, with Harry the only hope of unraveling a conspiracy that extends from a “phantom” drug lord through the police force to the government. The drug is a synthetic opiate called “violin,” three times stronger than heroin, controlled by a monopoly consortium. The murder victim (whose dying voice provides narrative counterpoint) was Oleg’s best friend and stash buddy, and his stepsister is the love of Oleg’s life. As Harry belatedly realizes, “Our brains are always willing to let emotions make decisions. Always ready to find the consoling answers our hearts need.” As all sorts of father-son implications manifest themselves, the conclusion to one of the most cleanly plotted novels in the series proves devastating for protagonist and reader alike. Hole will soon achieve an even higher stateside profile through the Martin Scorsese film of Nesbø's novel The Snowman (2011), but those hooked by that novel or earlier ones should make their way here as quickly as they can.

Where earlier novels provide a better introduction to Hole, this one best takes the full measure of the man.

Pub Date: Oct. 2, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-96047-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: July 29, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

The deeply honest, beautiful meditations on love, grief and guilt give way to a curlicued comic-romantic mystery complete...

MAGNIFICENCE

Millet’s conclusion of the trilogy that includes How the Dead Dream (2008) and Ghost Lights (2011) draws a detailed map of the healing process of an adulterous wife who suddenly finds herself a widow.

Susan’s husband, Hal, goes to Belize in search of Susan’s employer ,T., a real estate tycoon who has gone missing. (Spoiler alert: Readers of the earlier novels who don’t want to know what happens to T. or Hal, stop reading now.) Hal’s quest is successful: T. returns to Los Angeles. But he’s alone, because Hal has been fatally knifed in a mugging. Susan is both grief- and guilt-stricken. She genuinely loved Hal but has been seeking sex with other men ever since a car accident left their daughter, Casey, a paraplegic. She believes Hal went to Belize largely to recover after discovering her infidelity. Millet’s early chapters insightfully delve into Susan’s internal anguish as she tries to come to grips with the seismic change in her life caused by Hal’s death. Her intense maternal love for Casey, who refuses the role of noble victim, is as prickly and complicated as her mourning; her capacity for experiencing extremes of selflessness and selfishness within a heartbeat is refreshingly human and recognizable. Plot machinations get a little creaky, though once Susan sells her house and coincidentally inherits a mansion full of stuffed animals from a great-uncle she barely remembers. Bringing the mansion back to life and figuring out the secret of her uncle’s legacy take over Susan’s life. 

The deeply honest, beautiful meditations on love, grief and guilt give way to a curlicued comic-romantic mystery complete with a secret basement and assorted eccentrics.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-393-08170-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more...

NW

A wildly ambitious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that shuffles pieces of chronology, identity, ethnicity and tone, undermining cohesion and narrative momentum as it attempts to encompass a London neighborhood that is both fixed and fluid.

Many of Smith’s strengths as a writer are journalistic—a keen eye for significant detail, ear for speech inflections, appreciation for cultural signifiers and distinctions—as she demonstrated in her previous collection (Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays, 2009). Yet, she first earned renown as a novelist with her breakthrough debut (White Teeth, 2000), and her fourth novel (first in six years) finds her challenging herself and the reader like never before. The title refers to “North West London, a dinky part of it you’ve never heard of called Willesden, and...you’d be wrong to dismiss it actually because actually it’s very interesting, very ‘diverse.’ Lord, what a word.” What initially seems to be a comedy of manners, involving two women who have been lifelong friends but now feel a distance in the disparity of their social standing (the one raised poorer by a Caribbean mother has done far better than the middle-class Caucasian), ultimately turns darker with abortion, murder, drug addiction and the possibility of a suicide. Much of the drama pivots on chance encounters (or fate?), making the plot difficult to summarize and even a protagonist hard to pinpoint. Each of the book’s parts also has a very different structure, ranging from very short chapters to an extended narrative interlude to numbered sections that might be as short as a paragraph or a page. The pivotal figure in the novel goes by two different names and has no fixed identity (other than her professional achievement as a barrister), and she doesn’t begin to tell the back story that dominates the novel’s second half until the first half concludes (it highlights different characters). “At some point we became aware of being ‘modern,’ of changing fast,” interjects the author, who has written a novel so modern that nothing flows or fits together in the conventional sense, but whose voice remains so engaging and insights so incisive that fans will persevere to make of it what they will.

Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more conventionally minded readers might abandon it in frustration.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-594-20397-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2012

Britain’s foremost living novelist has written a book—often as drily funny as it is thoughtful—that somehow both subverts...

SWEET TOOTH

A subtly and sweetly subversive novel which seems more characteristic of its author as it becomes increasingly multilayered and labyrinthine in its masterful manipulation of the relationship(s) between fiction and truth.

Both the title and the tone make this initially seem to be an uncharacteristically light and playful novel from McEwan (Atonement, 2002, etc.). Its narrator is a woman recounting her early 20s, some four decades after the fact, when she was recruited by Britain’s MI5 intelligence service to surreptitiously fund a young novelist who has shown some promise. After the two fall in love, inevitably, she must negotiate her divided loyalties, between the agency she serves and the author who has no idea that his work is being funded as an anti-Communist tool in the “soft Cold War.” Beautiful (as she recognizes such a character in a novel must be) and Cambridge-educated, Serena Frome seems perfect for the assignment of soliciting writer Tom Haley because, as one of her superiors puts it, “you love literature, you love your country.” The “Sweet Tooth” operation makes no attempt to control what its authors write and doesn’t reveal to them exactly who is funding them, but provides financial support for writers who have shown some resistance to fashionable radicalism. Though Serena’s reading tends toward “naive realism,” favoring novels where she would be “looking for a version of myself, a heroine I could slip inside as one might a pair of favourite old shoes,” the relationship between Tom’s fiction and his character, as well as the parallels between the creative inventions his job demands and those of hers, illuminate the complexities of life and art for Serena and the reader as well. “In this work the line between what people imagine and what’s actually the case can get very blurred. In fact that line is a big grey space, big enough to get lost in.” The “work” being discussed is undercover intelligence, but it could just as easily be literature.

Britain’s foremost living novelist has written a book—often as drily funny as it is thoughtful—that somehow both subverts and fulfills every expectation its protagonist has for fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-53682-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2012

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