Ex-spouses team up in a new venture—solving murders—in James’s raucous debut.
Alex and Amanda Thorne have a great relationship. They love and respect each other; they support each other in adventures and in their realty business; and they finish each other’s sentences. It’s too bad their marriage didn’t fare as well. Apparently when Alex turned out to be gay, being married to Amanda just didn’t make sense anymore. Amanda’s determined to make it in the hot Palm Springs realty market without Alex’s help—until she finds local activist Doc Winters dead and splayed on the floor of her latest listing. Because Alex can’t resist the intrigue of a mystery, he and Amanda team up once more in witty banter and mystery-mongering. Cue the local residents, a series of over-the-top caricatures from Amanda’s elderly, oversexed, oversharing neighbor Regina Belle to Doc’s widow Monica Birdsong, whose fake breasts accompany her on her quest for higher consciousness. As a bonus, Alex isn’t the only man taking an active interest in Amanda’s well-being. Hot homicide detective Ken Becker is keeping one eye on the case and the other eye…
Though the precious dialogue steals the stage from the plot, the chapter titles alone are worth the price of admission.
A modern master of suspense revives the series that initially earned him a hard-core following.
Before Lehane attracted a lot more attention through the film adaptation of his Mystic River (2001) and then made a major literary leap with The Given Day (2008), the author had built a loyal fan base through a series of detective novels featuring Patrick Kenzie and Angela Gennaro. In this sequel to Gone, Baby, Gone (1998), they are no longer partners as Boston private investigators but a married couple with a four-year-old daughter. Patrick freelances for a venerable firm that caters to the city’s power elite, where he wrestles with the morality of his work but hopes for a full-time job. While Angie finishes grad school, they are all but broke. Twelve years earlier, they’d been racked by the case of a kidnapped four-year-old, Amanda McCready, when they rescued her from a couple who only wanted the best for her and returned her to her unfit mother. Now Amanda has disappeared again, and Patrick must decide whether to revisit a case that had caused his estrangement from Angie for over a year, and which now could threaten their domesticity and their daughter. As a return to earlier form for Lehane, the novel lacks the psychological depth and thematic ambition of his recent work, but its wise-cracking dialogue, page-turning (though convoluted) plot and protagonists who are all the more likable for their flaws extend the addictive spirit of the series. “When your daughter asks what you stand for, don’t you want to be able to answer her?” Angie challenges her husband. To do so, he becomes enmeshed with the Russian Mob, shifting allegiances and a wise-beyond-her-years, 16-year-old Amanda, who rubs his nose in the aftereffects of his earlier involvement with her. By the breathless climax, it may appear that this book is the last in the series. But Lehane has fooled us before.
Edinburgh moral philosopher Isabel Dalhousie’s seventh round of adventures among ethical conundrums (The Lost Art of Gratitude, 2009, etc.) marks her finest hour to date.
Harold Slade, principal of the Bishop Forbes School, is leaving for a post in Singapore, and the school’s board of governors, headed by retired businessman Alex Mackinlay, has prepared a short list of three possible replacements: mountain-climbing enthusiast John Fraser, ambitious math teacher Gordon Leafers and Tom Simpson, who Mackinlay thinks none too bright. It’s all business as usual until someone complicates the process by writing an anonymous letter warning that one of the three finalists harbors a secret that would seriously embarrass the school if he were appointed. What to do? Naturally, Mackinlay’s wife Jillian takes it upon herself to enlist the help of Isabel, a casual acquaintance she met at a dinner party. It’s an inspired choice, because in addition to her gift for moral clarity and fierce integrity, Isabel turns out to have surprisingly intimate connections to two of the candidates. Along the way, she’ll have to deal with her fiancé Jamie’s temptation by dying cellist Prue McKay, her niece Cat’s latest problematic boyfriend, her plan to bid on a Raeburn canvas picturing a long-dead relative and, of course, the latest schemes of Professors Robert Lettuce and Christopher Dove, the banes of Isabel’s journal, the Review of Applied Ethics. This time, however, the mystery of the anonymous letter remains central until Isabel resolves it in an uncommonly satisfying way.
A powerful demonstration of Smith’s ability to dramatize the ways everyday situations spawn the ethical dilemmas that keep philosophers in business.
A sometimes somber, always searching novel of love, loss and the immigrant experience by Ethiopia-born writer Mengestu (The Beautiful Things that Heaven Bears, 2006).
Mariam and Yosef are miserable, and for several reasons, not least the fact that husband and wife do not really know each other. Torn from their homeland by civil war, they have been plopped down on the flats of Illinois, settled in the white-bread city of Peoria and left to fend for themselves. Yosef, though, has ambition, and in time he puts himself behind the wheel of a weathered Monte Carlo—“a shabbier shade of red than the one she imagined”—and points its nose toward a destination, Nashville, since he loves nothing more than country music. It is not the honeymoon that Mariam, separated from Yosef for years, has dreamed of, and indeed, though the distance from Peoria to Nashville is less than 500 miles, it turns into something quite spectacularly ugly. Years later, their son, Jonas Woldemariam, is grappling with reality and identity. Smart and literate, he’s living in New York City, teaching English at a fancy prep school while provoking wonder that he’s so well-spoken and up on things American. Of course, he is American, thanks to a life in Peoria; when Jonas tells an interviewer of that fact, Mengestu writes, with gentle but pointed humor, “I could see him wondering if it was possible that there was more than one Peoria in this world, another situated perhaps thousands of miles away from the one he had heard of in the Midwest and therefore completely off his radar.” As if by way of proof, Jonas has a suitable roster of American neuroses and problems, including a marriage that seems to be disintegrating with each day. And what better to speed that collapse than to try to re-create his parents’ fateful journey, tragedy and all?
Elegant, confident prose brings this tale to life, and though the trope of the road as a journey to self-understanding is a very old one, Mengestu gives it a fresh reading.
An extraordinary novel, loosely based on The Ambassadors—but Ozick (Dictation, 2008, etc.) manages to out-James the master himself.
Julian Nachtigall, son of a tyrannical and imperious businessman, has gone to Paris but has shown no interest in returning home. While there, he links up with Lili, a Romanian expat about ten years his senior. Marvin, the father, is furious that Julian wants to waste his life playing around in nonserious matters (e.g., writing essays and observations of French life), so he sends his sister Bea (who’s Anglicized her name to Nightingale) to Paris to bring him to his senses as well as bring him home. Bea teaches English to high-school thugs who mock her love of Wordsworth and Keats, and Marvin has always held her in contempt for what in his eyes is her impractical and useless profession. Bea is complicit in tricking Marvin by sending Julian’s sister, Iris, to Paris instead. Iris is the apple of Marvin’s eye, a graduate student in chemistry and a promising scientist—in other words, all that Julian is not. But unbeknownst to Marvin, Iris is also happy to escape the imperatives of her authoritarian and oppressive father, so she goes to Paris more in the belief that she will stay there rather than bring her brother back home to California. Through flashbacks we learn of Bea’s unhappy and brief marriage to Leo Coopersmith, a composer who has pretensions of being the next Mahler, though he winds up something of a Hollywood hack, composing music for cartoons. We also meet Marvin’s long-suffering and brow-beaten wife, Margaret, whose neurasthenia is directly attributable to her husband’s iron-fisted despotism. Ozick brilliantly weaves together the multiple strands of her narrative through letters, flashbacks and Jamesian observations of social behavior.
This is superb, dazzling fiction. Ozick richly observes and lovingly crafts each character, and every sentence is a tribute to her masterful command of language.
The Pulitzer Prize– and National Book Award–winning author presents a vivid and insightful portrait of John and Abigail Adams.
A telling aspect of John’s nature was his confidence (some might say arrogance) in the fact that his life story would be an important part of the political history of the American Revolution. Because of this prescience, he and Abigail preserved a massive number of documents, including their own personal correspondence. Ellis (American Creation: Triumphs and Tragedies at the Founding of the Republic, 2007, etc.) makes good use of this archive, reconstructing a detailed chronology of the Adams marriage. From the beginning, Abigail was an intelligent and loyal partner, privy to every aspect of John's involvement in the nascent Revolution; the author describes Abigail as a vital “ballast” to John's excitability and mood swings. As his place in the new government strengthened, John was often called away from their Massachusetts home, a circumstance that brought much sadness to the couple but provides historians with intimate letters that the two sent each other throughout each separation. In these, John and Abigail discuss everything from domestic issues to politics to their relationship, displaying the unusually egalitarian and loving partnership they shared. John adored Abigail’s confidence and intellect, and Abigail was proud to support and advise her famous husband as he navigated his remarkably productive political career. This special connection lasted for more than 50 years and survived a litany of domestic hardships amid the political successes, including the heartbreak of witnessing their adult children (excepting John Quincy) devolve into poverty, depression and alcoholism. Despite this, writes Ellis, “Abigail and John remained resolute, infinitely resilient, the invulnerable center that would always hold.” The author’s beautiful writing draws the reader wholly into this relationship, bringing new perspective to the historical importance of this enduring love story.
An impeccable account of the politics, civics and devotion behind the Adams marriage.
The peripatetic author of Great Plains (1989) and On the Rez (2000) returns with an energetic, illuminating account of his several trips to Siberia, where his ferocious curiosity roamed the vast, enigmatic area.
Veteran New Yorker contributor Frazier (Lamentations of the Father: Essays, 2008, etc.) begins bluntly. “Officially,” he writes, “there is no such place as Siberia.” It is not a country, nor a province, yet the region bearing the name is extensive, comprising eight time zones. Throughout, the author confesses to a long love affair with Russia, a relationship that has waxed and waned over the decades but in some of its brightest phases sent him back repeatedly to see what few have seen. Here Frazier records several visits: a summer’s trip via cantankerous automobile across the entire region, in the company of a couple of local companions; a winter’s journey by train and car, during which the car sometimes used frozen waterways for roads; and a return visit to see the effects of the emerging Russian energy industry. He prepared in a fashion familiar to readers of his previous works—read everything he could, talked with anyone who knew anything, planned and schemed and made it happen. He also studied Russian extensively and tried gamely to engage local people he encountered along the way. On the road, he visited local museums and monuments and natural wonders, and he pauses frequently for welcome digressions on the historical background. He camped, fished and ate local delicacies (and indelicacies). Endearingly, he freely admits his inadequacies, fears (during one perilous icy trip he actually composed a farewell message to his family), blunders, dour moods, regrets and loneliness. The contrasts are stark—one day, he walked through the ruins of a remote, frozen Soviet-era prison camp and later saw a ballet in St. Petersburg—and the writing is consistently rich.
A dense, challenging, dazzling work that will leave readers exhausted but yearning for more.
Another biography of the late Yankee slugger—but this candid, compassionate portrait is worth a dugout full of the others.
Sports journalist Leavy (Sandy Koufax, 2002) produces an enduring, though certainly not endearing, portrait of The Mick. Eschewing traditional chronology, the author begins with a 1983 interview she conducted with the boozy, boorish, lecherous Mantle (he’d been retired for 15 years), an experience she spreads throughout the narrative, using portions of it to introduce each major section. She focuses on 20 significant days in Mantle’s life (five of them after his playing days), beginning with his career-threatening injury in 1951 in Yankee Stadium, and ending with his death to cancer in 1995. In between are glimpses of Mantle as son, brother, husband, adulterer (he was a serial offender), father (not a good one), player, teammate and fading and feckless celebrity. Leavy is generally careful not to celebrate his athletic accomplishments excessively, though it’s hard not to. His home runs were prodigious; his speed was gazelline; his capacity to endure pain was humbling. He won the Triple Crown in 1956 and entered the Hall of Fame as soon as he was eligible. The Mick, however, harbored many demons, and the author justly emphasizes them when appropriate. Often ignorant, capricious and extremely self-centered, he drank heavily, cheated on his wife and could be crude and obnoxious to fans (some of the things he wrote on souvenirs for young hero-worshippers—e.g., “You’re lucky. Your mom has nice tits”—are legendary). But as Leavy points out, it was in no one’s pecuniary interest to portray Mantle as anything other than the All-American Ballplayer.
Inside story of the controversial Italian-American family that gave us the Italian-language daily Il Progresso and the National Enquirer.
In writing this admiring account of his grandfather Generoso (1891–1950) and father Gene (1927–1988)—“two titans” who “changed America”—Pope relied on more than 500 interviews as well as extensive research done for several unpublished books on the family and its enterprises, including two projects commissioned and later aborted by his father. The result is a richly detailed tale of businessmen, mobsters and politicians that reads like a soap opera written by Mario Puzo. Beginning with Generoso’s arrival in New York in 1906, at age 15, with little money, the author tells a multigenerational story in which the immigrant started out as a laborer in Long Island’s sand pits, pursued his belief that “America is a place of dreams coming true” and created a hugely successful building-supply company during New York’s 1920s skyscraper boom. He received help from shady characters and shrewd operators, including mobster-friend Frank Costello and attorney Roy Cohn, who provided strong-arm and deal-making expertise in return for favors. The author writes that Gene later distanced the family from mobsters while making the Enquirer a national tabloid and ushering in the era of celebrity journalism. Patriarch Generoso emerges as a savvy opportunist who obtained dirt on his opponents to get his way. His favoring of like-minded Gene over two older sons created long-lived animosities within the family. Gene’s mother even told him, “You are the abortion I should have had.” Throughout the book, Pope provides engrossing stories about Il Progresso’s influence in New York and national elections, the long battle to win a place for the sensational Enquirer at supermarket checkouts and Gene’s tyrannical insistence on concocting gripping articles for the tabloid’s millions of readers. Also included are portraits of Mussolini, Frank Sinatra, A.J. Liebling, Carlo Tresca, Joe Bonanno and Joe Profaci.
Readable and revealing, and the vividly re-created scenes cry out for film treatment.
A sympathetic, moving life of the Brown Bomber by veteran cultural historian and biographer Roberts (History/Purdue Univ.; The Rock, the Curse, and the Hub: A Random History of Boston Sports, 2005, etc.).
As the author tells it, the story of Joseph Louis Barrow (1914–1981) is humbling, inspiring, depressing and deeply emotional. Born into a laboring family in rural Alabama, Louis, the seventh of eight children, showed no particular aptitude for much of anything. When his father’s mental illness consumed him, Louis’s mother remarried, and Joe eventually discovered the boxing world, where he began using Louis for a surname and discovered—after some shocks, disappointments and hard knocks—that he had the ability to be something special. And he was. As Roberts shows, America was a vilely racist society, both in the Jim Crow South and in the North. Louis, groomed by his handlers to be the laconic antithesis to the flamboyant Jack Johnson, still had the burden of an Atlas on his shoulders—the burden of the American black world, whose population grew to revere him and anoint him their avatar, their warrior who defeated, one after another, the representatives of oppressive white America. As war with Germany loomed, Louis came to represent America itself in his second fight (he’d lost the first) with the German Max Schmeling, who cavorted with Nazis and hung with Hitler. Roberts handles the boxing action with professional aplomb, and he knows when to cut away to tell us something of consequence and when to return to the ring. The author ably chronicles Louis’s rise from Alabama cotton fields to the cavernous Yankee Stadium, where celebrities glittered in the ringside seats for his big fights; the development of the mass media (boxing was enormously popular on radio); Louis’s career in the U.S. Army; and his sad decline, amid unpayable debts and mental illness.
All legendary athletes should hope for treatment by such capable, compassionate hands.