Eleanor Roosevelt’s deep, end-of-life regret that the United States barred thousands of Europe’s Jewish refugees adds...

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THE MURALIST

A political artist disappears and, 70 years later, her great-niece determines to find out why.

Shapiro takes a familiar ramp to launch her new mystery—a young woman goes missing. The author of The Art Forger (2012) returns to the canvas of art history to portray her titular figure, the muralist, one Alizée Benoit. She is, of course, “charismatic, headstrong, and talented.” She is—must be?—a fragile beauty who “captures the room” and, quite briskly, the attention of Eleanor Roosevelt. Benoit paints for the Works Progress Administration, circa 1940, and lives with “no hot water, no heat on weekends” in Greenwich Village. Her contemporary great-niece, Danielle Abrams, toils in an auction house and pines to know why her aunt vanished. Shapiro toggles her very short chapters between Abrams in 2015, searching for clues in plucky first-person narration, and the lost Benoit era depicted through an omniscient voice. With her Jewish relatives imperiled in Europe, Benoit agitates politically, paints boldly, and pals around with her gang: “Jack, Bill, Gorky,” “Lee and Mark”: Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Arshile Gorky, Lee Krasner, and Mark Rothko. The immortals of abstract impressionism drink, argue, and flirt with the muralist. But don’t expect the derivative deliciousness of The Paris Wife: the dialogue is wooden; the characterizations predictable. Mark’s kisses are invariably “light,” and he wants Benoit only one way: “desperately.” Occasional sentences are howlers.

Eleanor Roosevelt’s deep, end-of-life regret that the United States barred thousands of Europe’s Jewish refugees adds poignant color to this story, but Shapiro tries too hard to make her fiction into moral instruction.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-61620-357-3

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

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HOMEGOING

A novel of sharply drawn character studies immersed in more than 250 hard, transformative years in the African-American diaspora.

Gyasi’s debut novel opens in the mid-1700s in what is now Ghana, as tribal rivalries are exploited by British and Dutch colonists and slave traders. The daughter of one tribal leader marries a British man for financial expediency, then learns that the “castle” he governs is a holding dungeon for slaves. (When she asks what’s held there, she’s told “cargo.”) The narrative soon alternates chapters between the Ghanans and their American descendants up through the present day. On either side of the Atlantic, the tale is often one of racism, degradation, and loss: a slave on an Alabama plantation is whipped “until the blood on the ground is high enough to bathe a baby”; a freedman in Baltimore fears being sent back South with the passage of the Fugitive Slave Act; a Ghanan woman is driven mad from the abuse of a missionary and her husband’s injury in a tribal war; a woman in Harlem is increasingly distanced from (and then humiliated by) her husband, who passes as white. Gyasi is a deeply empathetic writer, and each of the novel’s 14 chapters is a savvy character portrait that reveals the impact of racism from multiple perspectives. It lacks the sweep that its premise implies, though: while the characters share a bloodline, and a gold-flecked stone appears throughout the book as a symbolic connector, the novel is more a well-made linked story collection than a complex epic. Yet Gyasi plainly has the talent to pull that off: “I will be my own nation,” one woman tells a British suitor early on, and the author understands both the necessity of that defiance and how hard it is to follow through on it.

A promising debut that’s awake to emotional, political, and cultural tensions across time and continents.

Pub Date: June 7, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-101-94713-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2016

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