An epic novel in which the historical and thriller elements enrich each other.

LUCIFER'S DRUM

Nineteenth-century federal agents hunt for a vicious murderer in the midst of the Civil War in MacKinnon’s (Song for a Shadow, 1991, etc.) historical novel.

In 1864, Maj. Nathaniel Truly of the National Detective Police and Capt. Bart Forbes of the Bureau of Military Information are trying to stop newspaper editor/owner Gideon Van Gilder, a Confederate sympathizer, from fleeing the Union. But when they intercept Van Gilder’s coach, they find the man dead inside, his body mutilated. They link an associate of his to U.S. Rep. Ezra Underhill of Maryland, but a letter written by Van Gilder is most illuminating—vaguely suggesting that he and other men, including Underhill and a detective, are being blackmailed. After another man is murdered, Truly and Forbes search for the blackmailer in order to prevent another killing. The author layers the story with extensive historical background, including such notable events as Lt. Gen. Jubal Early leading Rebel cavalry toward Washington, D.C. The perspective shifts from the investigation to the Confederate army’s preparations and march, but the murder mystery offers the more invigorating story, featuring moments of dark humor: Forbes finds a photograph of a recent murder victim and states bluntly and with no sign of mockery, “Here’s how he looked with his face on.” The military story gradually takes over, but the investigation is never completely sidelined and remains intriguing until the end. Significant secondary characters include Sapphira, a young black woman whom Truly bought at a slave auction, freed and raised as his own daughter; and real-life historical figures such as Gen. Robert E. Lee, who discusses the attempted Capitol seizure with fellow Confederate William Norris. MacKinnon keeps the plot moving at a steady tempo with an agent going undercover, an abduction and even more murders. Readers should brace themselves for a hefty read, however, as the book clocks in at nearly 800 pages.

An epic novel in which the historical and thriller elements enrich each other.

Pub Date: July 28, 2014

ISBN: 978-0986077401

Page Count: 794

Publisher: Pine Badge Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 9, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2014

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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