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THE WOMAN ON THE STAIRS

Despite some touching scenes near the end, Schlink doesn’t seem to have the creative wherewithal to bring his characters and...

At two points in time, three men find themselves involved with the same woman in this latest by the bestselling author of The Reader (1997).

While in Sydney for work, a lawyer, who narrates the story, sees a painting in a gallery that stirs up 40-year-old memories of one of his first cases back in Frankfurt. It involved a tug of war between an industrialist who commissioned a life-size nude of his wife and the artist who did the work and then ran off with the model. A conflict involving damage to and restoration of the canvas escalates to where the lawyer is asked to draw up a contract under which the artist regains ownership of the painting but returns the wife. Meanwhile, the lawyer, whose ethics prove increasingly elastic, has fallen in love with the woman and agrees to help her steal the painting and flee from both her beaux. He also assumes he will become her new paramour. Foolish man. She absconds altogether with her nude canvas self. Back in present-day Sydney, the lawyer surmises the woman is living nearby and hires a detective to find her, hoping to satisfy a surge of nostalgia and answer some old questions. In no time at all, Schlink (Summer Lies, 2012, etc.) has lawyer, industrialist, and artist all gathered in a remote area of Australia, where the woman has been living a kind of hippie life for many years. The painter and tycoon remain acquisitive and two-dimensional, while the woman’s post-flight life is dabbed with suggestions of color. The lawyer is revealed as a lifelong cold fish warming up to his one old flame. But who wins the hand of a once-fair maiden known for her fine birthday suit? Alas, that would be revealing one of the book’s few surprises.

Despite some touching scenes near the end, Schlink doesn’t seem to have the creative wherewithal to bring his characters and themes fully to life.

Pub Date: March 7, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-101-87071-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Dec. 17, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2017

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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HOUSE OF LEAVES

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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