An engrossing but sometimes baffling adventure set in an otherworldly city.


Mystified residents try to find answers in a surreal landscape in this dystopian novel.

A nude man is suddenly in a strange city with no memories of his past or how he got there. He eventually comes across clothes and some people who have deduced that they’re all somehow in a game. This man, who ultimately goes by the name Newcomer, has questions, but White City’s purpose, even as Players participate in the Main Game, is far from clear. Meanwhile, White City resident Mary Strong is studying for a Ph.D. in sociology. She has a vivid dream in which someone tells her to track down two individuals, providing only initials. One of those people is Portia Quant, whom Mary befriends and whose brother, Ian, is in need of rescue from captivity—or so Mary surmises from another dream. This only entangles her in the city’s copious mysteries. Some, for example, believe escape from White City is a near impossibility while others feel the metropolis and all of its citizens are in danger from an indefinable force called the Darkness. After two of Mary’s acquaintances—a fellow doctoral candidate and her supervising professor—turn up missing, she and Portia put together a rescue mission for Ian, who may be confined in the same place as an enigmatic device. Both Ian and the machine could shine a light on White City’s evasive “Truth” as well as Mary’s surprising connections to assorted residents, not the least of whom is the Newcomer.

As White City is effectively a giant puzzle, Exarchos’ three-part story is frequently obscure. Part II of the novel further complicates the tale, as it introduces various first-person narrators, a few of whom aren’t immediately identified. But Mary is a delightful constant; she provides a first-person narrative throughout the book. She’s recording a (presumably transcribed) vocal diary, which the author presents in witty, ever changing formats. Sometimes she’s conversing with Portia, and in one instance, she’s panting after goons chase her. Despite all of the tale’s perplexities, Part III is surprisingly illuminating, as it ties certain characters together. The ending is open to interpretation, but readers will have a better sense of what has been going on in White City. Some of what the players do in the city is akin to a fantasy video game: for example, aiming to complete a total of nine quests or hunting for three specific keys (iron, silver, and golden). Exarchos’ prose, though intermittently verbose, is colorful and occasionally humorous. At one point, the Newcomer spots a motorcyclist: “He took off his awkward helmet—I am tempted to say it looks like an empty, upside-down fish bowl; and, only to accentuate its weirdness even more, it has two antennae attached to its top—and he is holding it in his hands, while he is waiting for me to approach him.” Violent episodes and graphic sex are sparse considering the novel’s bulk (over 600 pages).

An engrossing but sometimes baffling adventure set in an otherworldly city. (dedication)

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-69-866825-1

Page Count: 615

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2021

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This complicated gothic thriller of dueling spouses and homicidal writers is cleverly plotted and neatly tied up.


An unhappy British couple attempt to rekindle the magic with a weekend trip to a remote spot in Scotland.

How is she tricking me? Feeney, the author of Sometimes I Lie (2017) and His and Hers (2020), has trained her readers to start asking this question immediately with her puzzle-box narratives. Well, you won't find out here. Only the basics: Amelia's won a weekend getaway in an office raffle, and as the novel opens, she and her screenwriter husband, Adam, who suffers from face blindness, along with their dog, Bob, are miserably making their way through a snowstorm to a destination in the Scottish Highlands which is no Airbnb Superhost, that's for sure. A freezing cold, barely converted church with many locked rooms and malfunctioning electricity, the property also features a mysterious caretaker who has left firewood and a nice note but seems to be spying through the window. Both Adam and Amelia seem to be considering this weekend the occasion for ending the marriage by any means necessary—then Bob disappears. The narrative goes back and forth with first-person chapters by Amelia and Adam interleaved with a series of letters written to Adam on their anniversary through the years and keyed to the traditional gifts: paper, cotton, wood, leather, etc. There's also a rock and a scissors, referring to the children's game of the book title, which the couple use to make everyday decisions like "Should we stay together?" Offstage is the famous writer Henry Winter, whose novels Adam has made his fortune adapting; through several author-characters, Feeney weaves in sometimes-grim observations about the literary life. On meeting a sourpuss cashier at the rural grocery store: "The woman wore her bitterness like a badge; the kind of person who writes one-star book reviews."

This complicated gothic thriller of dueling spouses and homicidal writers is cleverly plotted and neatly tied up.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-26610-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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