Davies subtly synthesizes complex issues into a low-key yet compelling web of affecting destinies.

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THE MISSION HOUSE

A remote Indian hill town inescapably shaped by its colonial past becomes a refuge for a self-doubting Englishman seeking peace and finding unsuspected engagement.

Lightly yet deftly crafted, hovering in tone somewhere between comedy, tragedy, and fable, Welsh author Davies’ understated second novel considers isolated characters and their yearnings against the historical long view and looming political violence. Hilary Byrd has fled English suburbia to reach this former British hill station in India, seeking an escape from modern clamor. A sexual blank slate, inclined to depression, Byrd is happy to be offered temporary shelter in a missionary’s bungalow by the local Padre and settles into a gentle routine that includes the daily services of Jamshed, an auto rickshaw driver. The Padre’s household includes Priscilla, a young woman who had been abandoned as a child. Byrd fears he's being groomed to take Priscilla on, but then, over time, as he teaches her English, sewing, and baking, he finds his feelings for her developing. But Priscilla loves another, Jamshed’s nephew Ravi, a barber who wears a white Stetson and has ambitions to become a country and western singer. Davies’ accumulation of curious, private, overlapping characters is presented tenderly in an India that seems, despite mention of internet cafes, scarcely to belong to the modern era. But nostalgia is intended to contrast with the seismic rumblings referenced in the Padre’s mentions of “the beatings and the burnings, the lynchings and the riots.” Davies is not an overtly political writer, but there will be a further pointing up of the advancing shift from imperialist past to nationalist future. The savage storm of fanaticism will eventually arrive in this sheltered corner, shattering hearts and expectations, before Davies' cast of hopefuls and misfits is released into an uncertain future.

Davies subtly synthesizes complex issues into a low-key yet compelling web of affecting destinies.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982144-83-8

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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