A victim of sprawling ambition, both in plot and prose.

MINK RIVER

The prosaic and the spiritual merge in a portrait of life in a small Oregon town.

Doyle’s debut novel makes heavy demands on the reader’s capacity to suspend disbelief: In the Pacific Coast village of Neawanaka, a crow is an intimate confidante; a bear kindly steps in to save a human life; and the nature of time is somehow lurking in the nearby mountains. The humans who inhabit this place are earthbound folk, though, and Doyle’s main point is to show how the mystical can influence otherwise ordinary lives. The novel features more than a dozen characters, though Doyle spends most of his time on just a handful: Billy and George, aging co-workers at the Department of Public Works; Owen, a repair-shop owner who consults regularly with that crow; his wife, Nora, a sculptor; and their young son, Daniel. The book is largely a series of loose, alternating portraits of each resident, and the story isn’t so much plotted as designed to create opportunities for the townsfolk to come together. One thread, for instance, involves Daniel, who suffers a nasty bicycle accident that prompts the residents to bond together to save him. (Even the town doctor has a whiff of weirdness, naming the cigarettes he smokes after the apostles.) Accepting the notion that a crow can deliver the news of the accident and that a bear can be a lifesaver is surprisingly easy; Doyle firmly establishes the off-kilter nature of the town early. It’s much harder, though, to be patient with the author’s persistent overwriting. The logorrhea is intended to give the novel a tone that's both impressionistic and operatic, particularly in passages where Owen muses on his family’s Irish spiritual heritage and Billy recalls local Native-American lore. The book might have worked as a kind of West Coast Winesburg, Ohio, suffused as it is with empathy for working-class residents and family secrets. But as the concluding chapters feature plot turns about a spiritual mountain trek and a gun-toting assailant, the novel's initial home-and-hearth charm dissolves into hackneyed storytelling and grating, run-on sentences.

A victim of sprawling ambition, both in plot and prose.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-87071-585-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Oregon State University Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 25, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2010

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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