A wonderfully suspenseful novel in which de Giovanni restores life to the cliché of the world-weary detective.
Inspector Giuseppe Lojacono has been tainted with rumors that he informed on the Mafia, so he’s transferred from Sicily to Naples to work a desk job, which for him consists of playing online poker. But a methodical serial killer is on the loose, and Lojacono’s bumbling colleagues have no idea how to solve the case, so they have no choice but to turn to him for help. Particularly eager to help solve the mystery behind the murders is the attractive, no-nonsense Assistant District Attorney Laura Piras. She slowly develops confidence that Lojacono is the only one who’ll be able to catch the murderer, dubbed “The Crocodile” by the media because he seems a ruthless killing machine. Three murders have recently been committed, each of the victims an only child of a single parent, and that seems to Lojacono to be a significant clue. His colleagues on the police force seem to think the Mafia-like Camorra might be responsible, though Lojacono knows the M.O. of the Camorristas and doesn’t see a connection. The psychologically shrewd inspector eventually concludes that the children murdered are perhaps not the “real” victims but that the killer is trying to get revenge on the parents in a twisted and horrifying way. Although estranged from his adolescent daughter, Lojacono has a father’s sense that the worst possible pain that can be inflicted on a parent is the death of a child, so he methodically starts to look for connections among the parents of the three victims, and eventually, he uncovers a bond...but he also finds another potential victim: a 6-month-old infant.
In this crisply translated novel, de Giovanni explores Lojacono’s loneliness and vulnerability while simultaneously revealing his brilliance as a detective.
Jane Austen, or maybe Edith Wharton, goes to Singapore, turning in this lively, entertaining novel of manners.
You’ve got to like any novel set in Asia that includes, among many splendid one-liners, this amah’s admonition: “Don’t you know there are children starving in America?” Of varying ethnicities but resolutely members of the 1 percent or aspiring, one way or another, to be so, Kwan’s characters are urban sophisticates par excellence, many of them familiar with the poshest districts of London, Paris, New York and Hong Kong. Many of them are also adrift, with soulless consumerism replacing society: It’s Less Than Zero without all the coke. When socialite Astrid, for instance, is in a mood, as she so often is, she goes shopping in boutiques haunted by “the wives of Persian Gulf sheikhs, Malay sultans, and the Indonesian Chinese oligarchs.” Not half-bad company, but then Astrid moves in a rarefied circle around the richest of the rich. At its center is 32-year-old Nicholas Young, whose ABC girlfriend—American-born Chinese, that is—Rachel Chu, has come to Singapore to meet the family. To Nick’s credit, she is taken aback by just how phenomenally wealthy they are. “It’s like any big family,” Nick assures her. “I have loudmouth uncles, eccentric aunts, obnoxious cousins, the whole nine yards.” Well, and then some. Rachel discovers that the position of being Nick’s intended isn’t an easy one—not only are there other would-be plutocrats gunning for the spot, but the family also doesn’t make things easy, either. A diverse set of characters and a light, unstrained touch move Kwan’s story along. Yet, even though one feels for Rachel, there’s a point—right about at the spot where one of her new girlfriends is showing off the yoga studio inside daddy’s new jet—that one gets the feeling that Ho Chi Minh might have had a point after all.
Pulitzer Prize–winning New York Times national security correspondent Mazzetti demonstrates in horrifying, persuasive detail how the new-style warfare approved by both George W. Bush and Barack Obama has led to controversial assassinations by the U.S. government and blowback yielding new terrorists determined to harm American citizens.
The author pulls together the strands from the White House, CIA and Department of Defense, operating especially in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia to explain how the CIA shifted from a usually nonlethal spy agency to a "killing machine, an organization consumed with man hunting." At the same time, the DOD, which has traditionally run the combat wars, has assumed numerous other spying activities. Although the complete cast of characters is understandably numerous, Mazzetti focuses primarily on 20 warriors at the CIA, 10 at the DOD, two attached to the White House (including John Brennan, recently nominated by Obama as the new CIA director), 13 in Pakistan, six in Somalia and four in Yemen. Using wisely selected narratives within the big picture, Mazzetti juggles all those characters skillfully, opening the book, for example, with the capture of an American spy named Raymond Davis within Pakistan after a lethal roadway incident in the city of Lahore. Davis was a private contractor hired by the CIA to infiltrate Pakistan. His arrest by the Pakistanis took an especially ugly turn after American officials, including President Obama, lied to their allies about Davis' mission. Mazzetti includes plenty of context about the run-up to the new ways of American warfare by recounting the circumstances surrounding 9/11, as well as U.S. invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. However, since those sagas have been told so often at book length, Mazzetti wisely provides little-known coverage of the campaigns in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.
A well-reported, smoothly written book for anyone who wants to understand contemporary American military might and the widespread hatred for the U.S. that has been the result.
An ardent mash note to the vast, vital nation that confounds and beguiles its European cousins in equal measure.
Gill (A.A. Gill Is Further Away, 2012, etc.) celebrates America’s natural bounty, its lack of pretention and hidebound tradition, the dizzying diversity of its people and its startling capacity for invention in a series of witty, discursive considerations of the national character, as reflected by such American signifiers as guns, skyscrapers, movies and moonshine. The author provides engrossing accounts of historical events, including the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the Scopes Monkey trial, distinguished by richly drawn portraits of the familiar figures involved and Gill’s erudite but accessible prose style, which flits from arresting profundity to cheeky humor to wrenching pathos. The collection alternates memoir with examinations of American history and institutions; Gill’s tales of his encounters with Appalachian moonshiners and Harlem barbers are warmly funny and rendered with the attention to detail of a fine short story. The author never condescends to his subjects or settles for juicy anecdotes; his brief is an appreciation of America as an expression of the sublime, a transcendent emotional response to the world that goes beyond the studied, safely curated idea of “beauty” as idealized by Old World European culture. Gill finds the sublime in American thought, writing and art, in its love of talk and argument, in its refusal to venerate the past above the promise of the future, in all of its lunatic variety and conflict and ambition. It’s a passionate, richly literary love letter to a place and idea that remains unique in the history of the world.
A stirring, funny, thought-provoking appreciation of the place, the idea, the experiment, the United States of America.
The sins of the fathers are always visited upon the sons—and in Meyer’s sweeping, absorbing epic, there are plenty of them.
As the first child born in the new Republic of Texas, or so it’s said, Eli McCullough fills big shoes. Yet he stands in the shadow of his older brother, who reads books and has a strange attachment to his sister—one that will be cut short when Comanches descend and, in a spree worthy of Cormac McCarthy, put an end to all that: “My mother had not made a sound since I woke up, even with the arrows sticking out of her, but she began to scream and cry when they scalped her, and I saw another Indian walking up to her with my father’s broadax.” Years living in semicaptivity with the Comanches teaches Eli a thing or two about setting goals and sticking to them, as well as a ruthlessness that will come in handy when he begins to build a cattle empire and accrue political power. His son is less deft; caught up in the cross-border upheaval of the Mexican Revolution, he finds himself out of place and adrift (“You’re a big man,” says one ranch hand to him, “and I don’t see why you act like such a small one”) and certainly no favorite of his ever-demanding father. Meyer’s sophomore novel deftly opens with entwined, impending deaths across generations, joining tangled stories over three centuries, the contested line between the U.S. and Mexico, and very different cultures; if sometimes it hints of McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove and Ferber’s Giant, it more often partakes of the somber, doomed certainty of Faulkner: “There had been one grandson everyone liked, who had loved the ranch and been expected to take it over, but he had drowned in three feet of water.”
An expertly written tale of ancient crimes, with every period detail—and every detail, period—just right.
Is a diamond really forever? So Sullivan (Maine, 2011, etc.) asks in her third novel, which explores the familiar territory of people who can’t quite find the old connections but keep looking for them all the same.
Frances Gerety, a real person whom Sullivan enlists at the outset of her tale, had a daunting task way back in 1947: She had to cook up an advertising tagline for De Beers that would convince Americans to purchase diamond engagement rings, hitherto “considered just absolutely money down the drain.” Sullivan’s story takes off from there, diamonds forming a leitmotif in ingeniously connected stories that span generations. As B. Traven advised in his grand tale of gold, precious objects can cause people to do very bad things; so they do here, enacted by a principal character who, though a bit of a sad sack, does what he can to resist temptation until it overwhelms him. That character speaks to the most modern emanation of maleness: He's been laid off, his wife earning more than he when he does work, regretful because he “had failed to live up to his potential.” But then, in Sullivan’s depiction of the world, every character harbors regrets over roads not taken. Some are stronger than others, and many are devoted to things more than people: One watches Fox News and says hateful things about President Barack Obama in order to be more like her well-to-do husband, adopting his politics “along with his interest in skiing and his love of the Miami Dolphins”; another hints at wanting more children just to be more like the trendy couples on the Upper East Side, as if to say: “We can afford to raise this many children at once in the most expensive city on earth.” Does money ever buy any of them happiness? Not really, but it does score a few carats.
A modern update of The Spoils of Poynton elegant, assured, often moving and with a gentle moral lesson to boot.
A canny exploration of the long affair between writers Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961) and Lillian Hellman (1905-1984), which endured alcoholism, war and McCarthyism.
Toperoff’s earlier novels strived to drill into the psyches of Marilyn Monroe (Queen of Desire, 1992) and James Dean (Jimmy Dean Prepares, 1997), and the lives of Hammett and Hellman give him similarly rich fodder. When they met, Hammett had left behind family to pursue a career as a screenwriter, and Hellman was a rising playwright in a perfunctory marriage. The early chapters stumble as Toperoff strains to establish their individual backgrounds and voices, as if the novel will be an awkward oral history, but the tone soon settles, and the focus turns squarely on their affection for each other. The two were on different career trajectories when they met: Hammett’s best work, like The Maltese Falcon, was behind him, while Hellman would gain celebrity with her 1934 play The Children’s Hour. And they were separated often, as Hellman covered the Spanish Civil War and Hammett drank heavily and tinkered with scripts. Yet the two completed each other both romantically and editorially, and Toperoff captures the writers' interior anxieties well, as Hammett struggled with stark minimalist autobiographical sketches and Hellman absorbed brickbats from her critics. (Some of the book's sweetest scenes feature their back and forths over their latest writing projects.) The need to become each other’s cheerleader becomes more pronounced in the later chapters, as the House Un-American Activities Committee comes after both of them; Hellman’s petty harassment at the hands of U.S. and British authorities, and the ballooning sense of injustice that ensues, is particularly well-turned. Toperoff credits numerous biographies and collected letters, but the novel never feels like a studiously researched museum piece.
Toperoff locates the private passions in an intense, public and ultimately tragic love story without indulging in glitz or melodrama.
An indispensable oral history of an often misunderstood musical genre.
The most important lesson this mammoth tome teaches us is that metal means far more than one might believe. It isn’t just Black Sabbath, Slayer, Guns N’ Roses and teased hair, write Revolver senior writer Wiederhorn and Nights with Alice Cooper producer Turman. Rather, it’s an umbrella under which falls numerous subgenres, including thrash, death and black, oftentimes incorporating and/or encompassing punk, rap, and good, old-fashioned rock ’n’ roll. This is why a style of music that hasn’t completely crossed over to the mainstream more than merits this lengthy, in-depth study. The success of an oral history is primarily dependent on the quality and quantity of interview subjects, and here, the authors lined up a veritable murderer’s row of talking heads: Jimmy Page, Henry Rollins, Gene Simmons, Slash, Courtney Love, Kurt Loder, Sharon Osbourne and Dee Snider are among the dozens of high-profile musicians and industry insiders who offer up commentary. The authors also spoke with members of well-known cult bands like Slipknot, Minor Threat and Bad Brains, as well as Type O Negative, Disturbed, W.A.S.P. and Cannibal Corpse. The majority of the interviewees are forthcoming and compelling, which makes for great reading for both hard-core headbangers and general music fans. The anecdotes run the gamut from debaucherous (lots of sex, drugs and violence) to heartbreaking, but there’s plenty of factual meat to satisfy readers in search of the history behind the music and the facts behind the myths. The subtitle doesn’t lie: This hugely impressive achievement is, without question, definitive.
Even if your metal collection consists of a couple of Kiss cassettes and an AC/DC CD, you’ll find this a killer read.
A bookbinder once again becomes a magnet for murder.
Brooklyn Wainwright, the bookbinder in question, lives in San Francisco with her drop-dead gorgeous boyfriend, Derek, a former British agent who currently does private investigations. Although she’s a dreadful cook, Brooklyn’s obsessed with food and delighted by a visit from her sister Savannah, a Cordon Bleu chef who owns a vegetarian restaurant in the Sonoma wine country. Savannah’s come to ask Brooklyn to repair a 1782 cookbook written by Obedience Green, a young woman who came to the Americas and cooked for a British general. The book is a gift for celebrity chef Baxter Cromwell, who’s invited all his buddies from their school days in Paris to the opening of his new restaurant. Brooklyn, who spent a summer living with the group, is included. At the special opening, the book, which Baxter accepts rather tepidly, elicits odd reactions from some of the other chefs. When Baxter is found stabbed to death, Savannah clutching a bloody knife, Brooklyn, whose past has included a number of unwelcome murder investigations (Peril in Paperback, 2012, etc.), enlists Derek to help find the real killer and the vanished cookbook. As it turns out, Baxter’s friends all had good reason to loathe him, so Brooklyn has loads of suspects. A second murder only adds urgency to her quest for the truth.
Carlisle’s eighth Bibliophile mystery provides interesting suspects, a historical puzzle and the usual appended recipes.
Set approximately 100 years after McIntosh’s previous work (Soft Apocalypse, 2011), this novel ponders the effect that a 24-hour virtual lifestyle and an almost psychotically appearance-focused culture can have on romance.
Mira is a “bridesicle”: For a steep fee, a man can temporarily revive her frozen, badly damaged (but still beautiful) corpse for a chat; if she can charm him sufficiently, he’ll pay the far higher cost to fully restore her to life in exchange for her agreement to marry him. The trouble is, Mira is gay. After a very public breakup with Lorelei—who intends the drama to gain her more virtual followers—a despondent Rob accidentally runs over and kills Winter, a young schoolteacher out jogging. Desperate to apologize, he works long hours at a factory job so he can afford to visit her at the bridesicle facility and finds himself falling in love. And Veronika, a professional dating coach who feeds her clients clever, flirtatious lines to say during their dates, is seemingly incapable of forging her own deep emotional connections. This is speculative fiction at its most personal and powerful, extrapolating current social and technological trends and exploring how they would affect future people simply trying to live their lives and make their existence matter to someone. The author is perhaps too quick to dismiss the concept of “groomsicles” and the financial viability of same-sex cryogenic “dating,” but apart from that, he offers an emotionally and sociologically genuine-seeming vision of the 22nd century.
Intriguing, quirky, perversely charming and definitely affecting.