Farndale (Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, 2005, etc.) raises compelling philosophical and theological...

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THE BLASPHEMER

From English author Farndale, a novel about angels, a nematologist and World War I.

Daniel Kennedy is a militant atheist of the Richard Dawkins variety, a coolly rational scientist who plans to visit the Galápagos Islands at least in part to pay homage to his hero, Darwin. He travels with Nancy, the mother of his child (though, as she frequently reminds him, not his wife), but just short of their destination the plane crashes. Daniel volunteers to swim the few remaining miles to the Galápagos to get help, and on this challenging swim he experiences a cryptic epiphany—he’s convinced he sees a man leading him onward and encouraging him to finish the journey. Hailed as a hero, Daniel returns to England, but he and Nancy find it difficult to rekindle their relationship, at least in part because immediately after the crash Daniel’s first impulse had been to ignore Nancy and save himself. Moreover, Daniel wants to convince himself that the vision he had was a hallucination, an irrational emanation from his brain, rather than a real visitation. Daniel is also puzzled why his nine-year-old daughter is falling in love with her teacher, Hamdi, and why this teacher looked so familiar to him when he first met him. Alternating scenes with this activity in England and the Galápagos, Farndale takes us to the trenches of WWI, specifically the battle of Passchendaele, where we meet Andrew Kennedy, Daniel’s great-grandfather, who experiences a similar epiphany. On that hellish first day of battle he becomes separated from his platoon, and a man (a hallucination? an angel?) leads him for hours to a safe haven, a small village in northern France, where he settles down with a war widow. Meanwhile, he’d been declared missing in action, and when authorities find him, they accuse him of desertion. Complicating the Kennedy family issues is Daniel’s grandfather, “Silky” Kennedy, a WWII hero.

Farndale (Haw-Haw: The Tragedy of William and Margaret Joyce, 2005, etc.) raises compelling philosophical and theological themes, though ultimately, in literature and in life, they remain intriguingly unresolved.

Pub Date: Aug. 17, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-307-71703-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Shaye Areheart/Harmony

Review Posted Online: June 4, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2010

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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