Set in 1949, a few years after Kanon's The Good German (2001), this novel explores the grave moral complexities of life in Soviet-controlled East Berlin through the tense encounters of Alex Meier, a young Jewish novelist of some renown working for the CIA.
A native of Berlin, Alex fled the Nazis for America before World War II. When his leftist politics got him in trouble in the U.S., costing him his marriage, he struck a deal to go back to Germany as an undercover spy with the promise that he could return to America with his record cleared. His cover story is that he missed his homeland, like other returning intellectuals including Bertolt Brecht (a minor character in the book). In fact, he has greatly missed Irene, the woman he left behind, whose romantic involvement with a Russian makes her one of his targets. Like everything else in the wreckage of the blockaded city, where going for a walk through the park attracts suspicion, his reunion with her is fraught with danger—especially after her ailing brother shows up, having escaped a Russian labor camp. The novel has its share of abductions and killings, one of which leaves Alex in the classic role of odd man out. Following his action-charged Istanbul Passage (2012), Kanon relies almost exclusively on dialogue to tell his story, which sometimes leaves the reader feeling as hemmed in as the Berliners. But the atmosphere is so rich, the characters so well-drawn and the subject so fascinating that that is a minor complaint.
Another compelling, intellectually charged period piece by Kanon, who works in the shadows of fear as well as anyone now writing.
A multilayered, morally ambiguous novel of family, blood and betrayal.
Working against a backdrop of World War II, Lehane continues and perhaps concludes the ambitious series of historical novels that began with the epic sweep of The Given Day (2008) and continued with Live By Night (2012). Almost a decade after the climactic carnage of that second novel, protagonist Joe Coughlin has apparently left the violence of his gangster past behind, mixing easily in the upper echelons of Tampa society, serving behind the scenes as “the fixer for the entire Florida criminal syndicate.” Still a widower and now a devoted father to his young son, he appears to be above the fray, a respected figure without enemies. Yet he’s haunted by the ghost of a young man he can’t quite identify, and he’s threatened by a rumor that someone has threatened a hit on him for reasons unknown. He experiences tension between some of the mob leaders to whom he feels loyal, amid rampant speculation of a rat in the ranks who's skimming and perhaps snitching. He’s also having an affair, one that seems doomed. On the surface, this is a crime novel that adheres to convention, but Coughlin has a depth beyond genre fiction, with a sense of morality and a code of ethics that the life he has chosen frequently puts to the test. As a particularly evil adversary warns him, “You have put a lot of sin out into the world, Joseph. Maybe it’s rolling back in on the tide. Maybe men like us, in order to be men like us, sacrifice peace of mind forever.” While this seems to lack some of the literary ambition of Lehane’s best work, its cumulative thematic power and whip-crack narrative propulsion will enrich the reader’s appreciation past the last page.
On one level, a very moving meditation on fathers and sons; on another, an illumination of character and fate.
If the title sounds reminiscent of a James Bond novel, it’s no coincidence, for Mathews freely makes use of Ian Fleming’s World War II experience as an intelligence officer in Cairo and Tehran to create adventures in espionage and counterespionage.
A brief prologue establishes some significant facts about Fleming’s early life—that his father died a hero in the Great War, for example, and that his mother was far fonder of Ian’s brother, Peter. At an elite English prep school, Ian befriends American Michael Hudson and establishes the “Too Bad Club,” supposedly for those who are too bad to die. Skip ahead 26 years. Fleming has re-established his friendship with Hudson, and they’re both stationed in Cairo. Hudson’s job is vague but has something to do with Lend-Lease, while Fleming is involved in tracking down a spy known only as the Fencer, who’s in league with another spy called the Kitten. Mathews weaves a substantial and intricate tale involving an abundance of historical characters, including Stalin (crude), Churchill (wary) and Roosevelt (nervous), who are attending the Cairo and Tehran conferences in late November and early December 1943. Even more prominent in the action are Churchill’s wild daughter-in-law Pamela Digby Churchill—already involved with both Averell Harriman and Edward R. Murrow—Chiang Kai-shek and his cynical but commanding wife, May-Ling, and Alan Turing, the eccentric but brilliant scientist working on the Enigma machine to decode Nazi transmissions. Fleming lays the groundwork for his later success as a novelist by taking on the name—and to some extent, the persona—of James Bond, for he begins to introduce himself in this sly and suave way, and his adventures become increasingly dangerous the closer he gets to the Fencer.
Mathews writes well, keeps the pace brisk and has great fun re-creating historical personages.
Old tragedies combine with fresh ones in Brandt’s steely-jawed, carefully constructed procedural.
Few crime novelists are as good at taut storytelling as Richard Price (Lush Life, 2008, etc.), who, for reasons of his own, writes here under a pseudonym. But then, everyone in these pages is hiding bits and pieces of their lives and nursing secrets. Billy Graves, for instance, is well-known among Gotham’s cops for having been an almost mythical crime fighter back in the day, until an errant bullet put a kid instead of a bad guy into the ground. Since then, Graves has been shunted from one graveyard shift to another, and though he nurses hard feelings, he’s also glad just to have a gig in a time when it seldom seems that “the Prince of Peace was afoot.” Certainly that’s true when another perp of old turns up dead at just about the time it dawns on Billy that others nurse grudges, too: “Although money was the prime motivation for those signing up for a one-off tour with Night Watch, occasionally a detective volunteered not so much for the overtime but simply because it facilitated his stalking.” The city quickly becomes a set for a sprawling, multiplayer game of cat and mouse, with vengeance not the province of the lord but of the aggrieved mortals below. Or, as one player ponders while assessing the odds, “To avenge his family, he would be destroying what was left of it.” When vigilantes try to do the work of cops, no one wins—but how can there be justice in a place where everyone seems to consider the law a private matter, if not merely a polite suggestion? The grim inevitability that ensues follows lines laid out in such recent fiction as Mystic River and Smilla’s Sense of Snow—but also, for that matter, in The Oresteia.
In the wake of rage and sorrow, ordinary people respond by going crazy and screwing up. In this far-from-ordinary novel, Price/Brandt explores the hows and whys. Fasten your seat belt.
The 1989 rape of a 15-year-old golden girl profoundly alters her suburban Baton Rouge neighborhood and all those who love her.
"I imagine that many children in South Louisiana have stories similar to this one, and when they grow up, they move out into the world and tell them," says the narrator of Walsh's debut novel, looking back on the floods, fires, mosquitoes, heat waves and psychopaths of his childhood. Probably so—but only a few can do it with the beauty, terror and wisdom found in these addictive pages. When Lindy Simpson's childhood is abruptly ended one evening as she bikes home from track practice, so much goes with it, including the innocence of the 14-year-old boy who loves her to the point of obsession—and eventually becomes a suspect in the crime himself. He fills in the events of the next few years in a style that recalls the best of Pat Conroy: the rich Southern atmosphere, the interplay of darkness and light in adolescence, the combination of brisk narrative suspense with philosophical musings on memory, manhood and truth. All the supporting characters, from the neighborhood kids and parents to walk-ons like the narrator's cool uncle Barry and a guy we meet in the penultimate chapter at the LSU/Florida Gators game in 2007, are both particular and real. So is the ambience of late '80s and early '90s America, from the explosion of the Challenger to the Jeffrey Dahmer nightmare. In fact, one of the very few missteps is a weirdly dropped-in disquisition on Hurricane Katrina. That's easy to forgive, though, as you suck down the story like a cold beer on a hot Louisiana afternoon.
Celebrate, fiction lovers: The gods of Southern gothic storytelling have inducted a junior member.
After last year’s best-selling The Husband’sSecret, Australian Moriarty brings the edginess of her less-known The Hypnotist’s Love Story (2012) to bear in this darkly comic mystery surrounding a disastrous parents' night at an elementary school fundraiser.
Thanks to strong cocktails and a lack of appetizers, Pirriwee Public’s Trivia Night turns ugly when sloshed parents in Audrey Hepburn and Elvis costumes start fights at the main entrance. To make matters worse, out on the balcony where a smaller group of parents have gathered, someone falls over the railing and dies. Was it an accident or murder? Who is the victim? And who, if anyone, is the murderer? Backtrack six months as the cast of potential victims and perps meet at kindergarten orientation and begin alliances and rivalries within the framework of domestic comedy-drama. There’s Chloe’s opinionated, strong-willed mom, Madeline, a charmingly imperfect Everywoman. Happily married to second husband Ed, Madeline is deeply hurt that her older daughter wants to move in with her ex-husband and his much younger, New-Age–y second wife; even worse, the couple’s waifish daughter, Skye, will be in Chloe’s kindergarten class. Madeline’s best friend is Celeste, mother of twins Max and Josh. It’s hard for Madeline and the other moms not to envy Celeste. She's slim, rich and beautiful, and her marriage to hedge fund manager Perry seems too perfect to be true; it is. Celeste and Madeline befriend young single mother Jane, who has moved to the coast town with her son, Ziggy, the product of a one-night stand gone horribly wrong. After sweet-natured Ziggy is accused of bullying, the parents divide into defenders and accusers. Tensions mount among the mothers' cliques and within individual marriages until they boil over on the balcony. Despite a Greek chorus of parents and faculty sharing frequently contradictory impressions, the truth remains tantalizingly difficult to sort out.
Deservedly popular Moriarty invigorates the tired social-issue formula of women’s fiction through wit, good humor, sharp insight into human nature and addictive storytelling.
When police coerce a whip-smart college student into being a confidential informant, they get more than they bargained for.
In a long, rambling and cheeky letter to her mother, Sarie Holland describes her arrest and incarceration on a drug charge. A more prosaic account from the perspective of undercover narcotics officer Benjamin F. Wildey counterpoints segments of Sarie's letter. Wildey gives his catch a cheap burner phone and demands that she become his informant or face harsh prosecution. Shrewd Sarie immediately begins living a double life, lying to her clueless father as she fields persistent texts from Wildey and behaves with uncharacteristic abruptness. Wildey feels guilty but not guilty enough to cut Sarie loose. Meanwhile, Sarie's suspicious brother, Marty, notes the change in his sister's behavior and wonders what she could be up to. Soon after Wildey sets Sarie up to trap users with fake packets of drugs, Sarie, chafing under the officer's control, starts to revolt in little ways. A close brush with mortality pulls her up short. Sensing her skittishness, Wildey begins to monitor her more closely. As the two seem headed for a showdown, Sarie's family begins probing the situation, which can't possibly end well
Inventive Swierczynski, author of the popular Charlie Hardie trilogy (Point and Shoot, 2013, etc.), breathes fresh life into a familiar plot with shifting perspectives, sly humor, puckish chapter titles and a crackerjack pace.
Punctuation czar Truss (The Girl’s Like Spaghetti: Why, You Can’t Manage Without Apostrophes!,2007, etc.) turns her very special talents to a cat mystery with a twist: The cats are culprits rather than sleuths or mascots.
Everyone knows that most cats haven’t had the powers of Nietzschean Überkatzen—nine full lives, the ability to speak, the whole megillah—for hundreds of years. In every generation, however, a few Überkatzen arise, like Roger, who’s already used up eight of his lives, and the Captain, the East London mentor who put Roger repeatedly to death to test his mettle. When Roger takes up with Coventry watercolorist Joanna Caton-Jones and her actor brother, Will, aka Wiggy, things are bound to get out of hand, and boy, do they ever. By the time newly widowed periodicals librarian Alec “Bear” Charlesworth stumbles onto the scene, Jo and her border terrier, Jeremy, are dead, Wiggy is wiggy, and the police suspect Wiggy of everything from murder to raving lunacy. Why does every human whose path crosses Roger’s lose the will to live? It’s up to Alec and his faithful dog, Watson, back home in Cambridge and armed with a stolen copy of Nine Lives: The Gift of Satan, to join Wiggy in unraveling a conspiracy that places this latest round of skullduggery in an ancient succession of Überkatzen and their nefarious Cat Masters.
A Chinese box of anti-narrative that reads like M.R. James on bad acid with a laugh track, complete with demonic cats, murderous librarians and badly overmatched amateur sleuths.
Turn-of-the-century New York is plagued by an elusive serial killer.
Molly Murphy returns from abroad (City of Darkness and Light, 2014, etc.) to a delightful surprise. She and her young son, Liam, had spent time in Paris with her bohemian friends Elena “Sid” Goldfarb and Augusta “Gus” Walcott after her house was destroyed by a bomb. Now her police captain husband, Daniel Sullivan, leads her to the rebuilt house, which he has made as much like the old one as possible. Since he’s not fond of Sid or Gus, Daniel asks his mother to come and help Molly set up the new home while he works on a difficult case. The only thing connecting a series of murders, some of which look like accidents, seem to be gloating notes sent to Daniel. As a former private detective, Molly is always eager to help Daniel, who’d prefer that she stay home with Liam. When Molly and Liam are almost killed in an elevated train accident, and another note arrives on the heels of the wreck, there’s no stopping Molly, who wonders if someone has a personal vendetta against Daniel. She carefully follows up each of the deaths in search of some link among them. Meanwhile, she helps Sid and Gus, recently returned from studying with Freud in Vienna, investigate the problems of a young girl whose parents were killed in a house fire. Young Mabel Hamilton is having such awful dreams that her aunt asks the pair to visit and see if they can help. The police suspect Mabel of murdering her parents because she was found asleep and unhurt in the back garden. As Molly and Daniel continue their apparently separate inquiries, a sinister pattern emerges.
Bowen shrewdly explores the tension between a husband and his very independent wife as they both work to solve a complicated series of murders. One of Molly’s best.