Sharp writing and an unconventional plot make for a darkly enjoyable read.




A retired rock star finds work in a cemetery in this morosely intriguing novel by Castrodale (Marion Hatley, 2017).

Ben Dirjery is approaching his 50th birthday, the age at which both his father and grandfather dropped dead. He started jogging and is considering a green burial; after his death, mushrooms would break down his body naturally and make “some really nice compost.” Ben’s morbid nature often perplexes Cole, his daughter, yet it perhaps shouldn’t because her dad is a gravedigger at Bolster Hill Cemetery. Ben used to be a guitarist in an emerging rock band, The Vagrants, performing under what would become an appropriate pseudonym, Nick Graves. He traded the band for fatherhood and a steady job and now tends the cemetery where Vince Resklar, the lead singer of his band, is interred. Unrest comes to Bolster Hill when a court order requires the exhumation of the body of an unknown vagrant who was buried outside the cemetery’s gates long ago. Ben becomes caught between his contractual obligations and the outcry of the protesters who vehemently campaign for the grave to be left untouched. This novel plays upon the sense of unease associated with cemeteries. Much of the novel is set around the gravestones and follows Ben watering and weeding the grounds or observing cemetery mushrooms. Castrodale possesses the uncanny power of transforming this customarily uncomfortable space into somewhere oddly inviting. Her tender, detailed descriptions lend a magicality to the cemetery, like when Peg, one of the protesters, stumbles across bioluminescent fungi: “Crouching at the base of the tree, an old birch, she discovered that the light was coming from a clump of mushrooms in their umbrella-ish prime. They’d sprouted from one of the birch’s fallen branches....What a strange place this is, Peg thought. What a strange and wonderful place.” In the end, these startlingly incongruous parts—graveyards, guitars, and mushrooms—come together in satisfying and unexpected ways.

Sharp writing and an unconventional plot make for a darkly enjoyable read.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018


Page Count: 292

Publisher: Garland Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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