AN INTENT TO COMMIT

An engrossing, thoughtful, and disturbing drama that caters to fans of constitutional debates.

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The First Amendment remains front and center in this legal thriller.

Is a high school flagpole a public forum or an expression of the school’s philosophy of inclusivity with respect to its diverse student body? That is the legal question at the heart of the controversy stirred up when Montpelier High School in Vermont elects to fly the Black Lives Matter flag on its grounds. There are protests by local gun rights group True Patriots. And then the school receives a notice that it is being sued by “Second Amendment, Inc.,” a Virginia gun rights nonprofit funding the Patriots. Enter lawyer Tad Sorowski for the defense. Racist and antisemitic letters and emails are subsequently received by Tad and Sarah Jacobson, the story’s main protagonist, who works for the Green Mountain Black Lives Matter organization. This clash leads to an additional, more intense, First Amendment lawsuit that propels the captivating narrative, with Tad and Sarah filing as the plaintiffs under the “intent to commit” statute. The tale’s opening scene takes place in April 2019, near the story’s conclusion, with the kidnapping of Sarah from a Vermont gas station. She and her boyfriend, Ricky Stillwell, had moved back home to Montpelier from Rhode Island in 2018, when Sarah landed the job working for the Green Mountain Black Lives Matter group. Readers of Lambek’s first novel, Uncivil Liberties(2018), will remember Sarah and Ricky. She was the daughter of that book’s lead attorney, Sam Jacobson, and Ricky was the lawyer’s client. The author toggles between past and present, developing both characters, especially Sarah, and the events leading up to the abduction. These time jumps provide a sense of action in an otherwise more politics- and relationships-driven plotline. Armchair legal eagles will have plenty to chew on here—detailed case histories, precedents, and courtroom maneuvers. But there is also enough personal drama to keep less civically obsessed readers engaged. The cast is comprised of an eclectic group of complex characters with intriguing backstories. And Lambek, a Vermont attorney, is a meticulous writer who stages even relatively minor scenes with the same descriptive precision he uses in his legal arguments.

An engrossing, thoughtful, and disturbing drama that caters to fans of constitutional debates.

Pub Date: Nov. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-57869-069-5

Page Count: 196

Publisher: Rootstock Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 28, 2021

THE FURY

More style than substance.

Michaelides takes a literary turn in his latest novel, employing an unreliable narrator, the structure of classical drama, and a self-conscious eye to dismantling the locked-room mystery.

The novel starts off with a murder, and with seven people trapped on an isolated Greek island lashed by a "wild, unpredictable Greek wind." The narrator, soon established as Elliot Chase, then zooms out to address the reader directly, introducing the players—most importantly movie star Lana Farrar. We meet her husband, Jason Miller, her son, Leo, and her friend Kate Crosby, a theater actress. We learn about her rise to fame and her older first husband, Otto Krantz, a Hollywood producer. We learn about Kate’s possibly stalling career and Leo’s plan to apply to acting schools against his mother’s wishes. We learn about Jason’s obsession with guns. And in fragments and shards, we learn about Elliot: his painful childhood; his May–September relationship with an older female writer, now dead; his passion for the theater, where he learned “to change everything about [himself]” to fit in. Though he isn't present in every scene, he conveys each piece of the story leading up to the murder as if he were an omniscient narrator, capable of accessing every character's interior perspective. When he gets to the climax, there is, indeed, a shooting. There is, indeed, a motive. And there is, of course, a twist. The atmosphere of the novel, set mostly on this wild Greek island, echoes strongly the classical tragedies of Greece. The characters are types. The emotions are operatic. And the tragedy, of course, leads us to question the idea of fate. Michaelides seems also to be dipping into the world of Edgar Allan Poe, offering an unreliable narrator who feels more like a literary exercise. As an exploration of genre, it’s really quite fascinating. As a thriller, it’s not particularly surprising.

More style than substance.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2024

ISBN: 9781250758989

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2023

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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