Pérez-Reverte at his best is a matchless entertainer. But this, his weakest novel, is a major disappointment.

THE QUEEN OF THE SOUTH

The perilous arc of a powerful woman druglord’s career, painstakingly traced by the Spanish author of such brainteasing thrillers as The Club Dumas (1998) and The Seville Communion (1999).

Pérez-Reverte’s sixth is a dual narrative in which we observe Mexicana Teresa Mendoza’s rise to power after the death of her drug-running pilot boyfriend Güero Davila, and also receive summaries of her progress from an unnamed journalist who’s interviewing both her former criminal contacts and law enforcement officers who spent 12 years pursuing her. It all moves much too slowly, because Pérez-Reverte’s obviously thorough researches betray him into an almost encyclopedic disclosure of exactly how the international drug trade operates—and because Teresa’s successive accomplices and lovers are thinly sketched, scarcely characterized at all. This is unfortunate, since there’s considerable dramatic potential in such vividly conceived figures as courtly “narco” godfather Epifanio Vargas, freelance drug-runner Santiago Fisterra (who supplants the late Güero in Teresa’s bed), Teresa’s bisexual prison cellmate and later partner Patricia O’Farrell, and criminous attorney (and Teresa’s next lover) Teo Aljarafe. “La Mexicana” (a.k.a. The Queen of the South) herself is fairly opaque, her strength and resolve asserted rather than dramatized. And Pérez-Reverte skirts absurdity by charting her development into a passionate reader, beginning with her jail-time immersion in The Count of Monte Cristo (“Edmond Dantes is me”). The action, fairly generic, moves from Mexico to Spain’s southern coast, the Strait of Gibraltar, and Morocco, peaking in a dangerous episode in the Black Sea. Still, Pérez-Reverte comes through with a smashing climax in which Teresa learns the truth about Güero, faces down the elusive Don Epifanio, and puts her own spin on her deal with USDEA officials (“Cooperation in exchange for immunity”). Too little, too late.

Pérez-Reverte at his best is a matchless entertainer. But this, his weakest novel, is a major disappointment.

Pub Date: June 7, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-15185-0

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2004

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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