Not easy but rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison’s complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging...

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CONSCIENCE

While exploring the deeply flawed yet enduring marriage of two Vietnam War–era activists now leading comfortable bourgeois lives in New Haven, Connecticut, Mattison (Nothing is Quite Forgotten in Brooklyn, 2008, etc.) also tackles broader issues, including the value of risk versus caution in the name of idealism.

After falling in love as zealous student anti-war protestors, editor and literary biographer Olive—who's white and an “intermittently and selectively observant” Jew—married African-American school principal Griff, a nonpracticing Christian. Their long marriage was interrupted by several years of separation, and while their relationship has more or less recovered, Olive chafes at Griff’s irritating presence while resenting his frequent absence. Now a new marital crisis arises when Olive is assigned to write an essay concerning a novel written years earlier by her sort-of friend Val, a bestseller Val openly based on a romanticized version of the life of Olive’s close friend Helen, whose radicalism led to violent tragedy. Meanwhile, Griff is elected president of the board of a local community service center and finds himself in conflict with Jean, who runs the center. Risk-averse Griff considers Jean too “casual about trouble” while she considers him “controlling” and overcautious—and both are right. Then Jean, with whom Olive has forged a friendship, reads Val’s novel, which Griff has long avoided finishing, and notices Griff’s resemblance to a late-appearing character who influences the Helen character’s decisions. Ironically, Olive considers Griff’s self-blame for the real harm he may or may not have caused an overweening intrusion into her grief over Helen. Olive and Griff’s struggles as youthful activists balancing the limits of liberalism against the excesses of radicalism as a cure for social ills interlace with Olive's and Jean’s current efforts to define themselves emotionally within an ethical context (Griff having done so long ago). Not to mention the question they raise about whether fiction must be accurate.

Not easy but rewarding and certainly timely; Mattison’s complex prose matches the multidimensional moral arguments raging inside her prickly, multidimensional characters.

Pub Date: Aug. 7, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68177-789-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pegasus

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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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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