Dawson (The Waking Spell, 1992) masterfully incorporates her central Texas characters into a magical, multigenerational, utterly mesmerizing struggle between good and evil. Back in the early 1920s, Grant Macafee's attraction to Sarah Ransom wasn't love, but a terrible sickness—that's what 500-pound recluse Victoria Ransom's old servant, Viola, tells her with absolute conviction. It was a passion that overwhelmed the sticklike body of the young Grant as he attended parties at the Ransoms' limestone mansion, a house paid for by the phenomenally successful ice business run by Sarah's and Grant's fathers. Entwined though the two families were through business concerns, Sarah refused to marry Grant, consenting only to an affair with him—until, pregnant, she fled her home, never to return. Enraged, Grant impulsively married the woman coveted by Sarah's amiable brother, William—but was humiliated a second time when his wife gave birth to William's child. Grant's fury extended to the entire Ransom family, and in his subsequent isolation it grew to an unalloyed reservoir of evil intent. As the decades passed, Ransoms began regularly to disappear or fall down dead, and the servant Viola begged William to destroy Grant and free the family from his curse. Gently reared William's equivocation in the face of such evil mirrored his country's contemporaneous waffling as Hitler's forces spread across Europe. A believer in the power of his own goodness, William was forced to witness much more—his eldest son's mysterious death, his grieving sister's collapse, his second son's murder—before he understood that the forces of evil had already won. It is William's granddaughter Victoria (the youngest and the largest of all the Ransoms) who, by writing down every monstrous detail Viola has told her, manages to defeat the demons and thereby free her own imprisoned soul as well. This hallucinatory tale grips the reader with its gothic undertones while seriously exploring the complexities of the human soul. Once again, Dawson proves herself an astonishingly accomplished novelist very early in her career. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1994

ISBN: 1-56512-054-X

Page Count: 476

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1994

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The book is pure fun, although slender. Another volume of Maud’s misdeeds would be most welcome.


Five connected stories about a murderous old Swedish lady.

Maud has a good thing going. At age 88, she’s lived in a large apartment rent-free for 70 years because of a clause in an old contract. Never married, she loves to travel alone and to be alone. In the first story, "An Elderly Lady Has Accommodation Problems," a rare event happens: Her doorbell rings. Jasmin Schimmerhof, a 40-year-old avant-garde artist who lives in the building, stops by to say hello. The daughter of celebrities, her past includes drugs, multiple divorces, and tragedy. Her current art project strives to “unmask the domineering tactics of the patriarchy,” meaning that her small apartment is filled with phalluses—some even hanging from the ceiling. She is delightfully overbearing as she constantly tries to weasel her way into Maud’s good graces. But Maud isn’t stupid or senile, and she knows Jasmin is up to something. Once Maud figures out what it is, her solution is drastic, funny, and final. Maud is a seasoned world traveler who once, at age 18, had been engaged to Lt. Gustaf Adelsiöö. He’d emphatically broken off their engagement on learning her family wasn’t rich. Now, in “An Elderly Lady on Her Travels,” she reads in the newspaper that he is a wealthy 90-year-old widower about to marry the 55-year-old Zazza, whom ex-teacher Maud knows as her long-ago student, a schemer and a failed soft-core porn actress. When Maud arranges to get near her at a spa and then overhears Zazza’s plans to take control of Gustaf’s estate, Maud devises an emphatic countermeasure. And then in “An Elderly Lady Seeks Peace at Christmastime,” she deals with “The Problem” in the apartment above her. Maud’s murders always have plausible motives, and she is a sympathetic character as long as one keeps a safe distance. Each story takes its sweet time to develop and concludes with a juicy dose of senior justice.

The book is pure fun, although slender. Another volume of Maud’s misdeeds would be most welcome.

Pub Date: Nov. 6, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64129-011-1

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2018

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Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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