An exciting, original take on the literary mystery genre.

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A mind-bending marriage of ambitious literary theory and classic murder mystery.

In this intricately plotted novel, Hartman (winner of the Salvo Press Mystery Novel Award for Perfectly Healthy Man Drops Dead, 2008) spins the familiar trappings of gothic mystery together with a fresh postmodern sensibility, producing a story that’s as rich and satisfying as it is difficult to categorize. The narrative begins with Dr. Ned Hoffmann, a new psychiatrist at a mental institution in a small town. Barely in control of his own instabilities, Dr. Hoffmann struggles with demanding bosses and baffling patients, including the schizophrenic grown children of an opera singer who died under suspicious circumstances. When one of Dr. Hoffmann’s recent patients, Nicole, an anxious literature grad student, finally finds a topic for her dissertation, she discovers that life in her town is beginning to mirror art—in some disconcerting ways. Alongside a professional blackmailer, a scrappy librarian and other assorted meddlers and madmen, Dr. Hoffmann and Nicole slowly unspool a mystery that extends all the way back to artists of the romantic era. Hartman impressively turns literary theory into something sexy and menacing, weaving the real-life works of writer E.T.A. Hoffmann and composers Robert Schumann and Jacques Offenbach, among others, into his characters’ increasingly muddled lives. Sometimes the writing is self-conscious, as when Nicole says, “If you asked me about what’s been going on around here lately, I’d have to classify it as Post-Modern Neo-Gothic Horror.” For the most part, Hartman brings a light touch to potentially weighty material. Though the novel’s philosophical twists and turns are fascinating, the story also succeeds as an old-fashioned whodunit, and the writing is full of descriptive gems. At one point, the librarian looks at someone “over the tops of her trifocals, as if in the suspicion that none of their refractions would reveal the truth about him.” As Hartman skillfully blurs the lines between fiction and reality, the book becomes a profound meditation on art, identity and their messy spheres of influence.

An exciting, original take on the literary mystery genre.

Pub Date: May 19, 2013

ISBN: 978-0988918108

Page Count: 287

Publisher: Swallow Tail Press

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2013

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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