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THE NIGHT COUNTER

Emotionally rewarding reading that builds to a poignant and thoroughly satisfying climax.

Yunis’ book club–ready debut uses The Arabian Nights as a departure point for an immigrant-assimilation story.

The central character, around whom a cast of dozens revolves like a time piece, is Fatima Abdullah: purple-haired mother, grandmother and Lebanese migrant who settled in Detroit in the 1930s. The book opens, however, with an older Fatima in contemporary West Hollywood; the conservative but flexible matron moved there 992 nights ago to live with her gay grandson Amir. On that first night, she had a visit from none other than Scheherazade herself. The Arab beauty with 1,001 tales demanded stories from Fatima’s past, and when asked “What if I don’t tell you a story?” she replied, “When our tales are over, so are our lives.” Now Fatima is counting down to night No. 1,001, believing it will bring her death at the age of 85. Yunis’ gifted handling of character and environment forestalls the question of whether Fatima is insane or gifted with magical thinking as she debates and ruminates with Scheherazade about life, family and America. The only relative willing to tolerate her unintentionally hilarious outbursts is Amir, an aspiring actor struggling against typecasting as a terrorist (his dream role is the lead in an Omar Sharif biopic). He’s bitter over his breakup with a sexy soap-opera star—whose driveway, we learn, has been conscripted for spying purposes by the FBI, which has mistaken the Abdullahs’ family dramas for national-security concerns. Yunis cleverly weaves a vast social web containing Fatima’s ten offspring, beginning each vignette with the matriarch’s musings about her kids, which lead Scheherazade to fly around America eavesdropping on the wildly diverse clan. Readers may occasionally get lost in the rain of names and details, but the characters’ grounded humanity and emotional clarity always provide orientation.

Emotionally rewarding reading that builds to a poignant and thoroughly satisfying climax.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-307-45362-4

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2009

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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