The surprise is that Cornwell’s love scenes are as deft as his action scenes, though far fewer, of course—all driven by a...

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DEATH OF KINGS

It’s 898, and life in pre-England is messy, turbulent, quite likely to be short and vividly evoked in Cornwell’s masterful 46th novel (The Burning Land, 2010, etc.).

“ ‘I hate peace,’ ” snarls old soldier Uhtred, who regards periods of relative tranquility—not that these abound in his embattled land—as opportunities for his enemies to mount conspiracies against him and, by extension, King Alfred of Wessex, to whom he has sworn allegiance. Lord Uhtred of Bebbanburg: clever, resourceful, intemperate, charming, feared by most men and adored by too many women. In tribute to his generalship and the unparalleled success he’s had in repelling invasions through the years, the ever-marauding Danes refer to him bleakly as the Sword of the Saxons. It’s King Alfred’s cherished dream to reshape an unruly collection of tribes into a thing called England. He wants it to be Christian and cohesive enough to drive the Danes back into the sea once and for all. The Christian part is what Uhtred is out of sympathy with. In his view the new religion replaces joy with hypocrisy, a bad bargain, he thinks. Uhtred prefers the old ways when the proper blood sacrifice could propitiate essentially undemanding gods and tip a teetering battle toward victory. But now Alfred’s reign is in its final stages and no one, Uhtred included, can quite figure the geopolitical implications of the aftermath. All agree, however, that it will be unsettled. Worried about the succession, Alfred asks Uhtred to transfer his allegiance to his son Edward, and Uhtred agrees, albeit reluctantly—Edward is no Alfred. The great King dies, smoldering grudges ignite, alliances shift, armies clash and Uhtred is once again a happy warrior.

The surprise is that Cornwell’s love scenes are as deft as his action scenes, though far fewer, of course—all driven by a hard-shelled, sporadically soft-hearted, always charismatic protagonist: George Clooney alert.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-196965-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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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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