The work of a true master of her much maligned genre. If you love history, do not under any circumstances overlook or...



Prior to 1066, Bloodie Olde Englande was a fine arena for politically inflected combat—and veteran historical novelist Holland is just the writer to bring it back to life.

In this rousing sequel to The High City (2009), and the concluding volume of a series begun with The Soul Thief (2002), Holland connects numerous attempts to dethrone borderline-scumbag monarch Ethelred (the Unready) with the tale of itinerant adventurer Raef Corbanson, recently returned from Constantinople and now having cast his lot with displaced Scandinavians residing in the Viking town of Jorvik. The complex plot knits Raef’s seemingly inherited out-of-body powers with his pursuit by the vindictive wraith of the Lady of Hedeby (a nemesis prominently featured in earlier volumes), who is herself empowered to “enter” others’ bodies (e.g., that of Ethelred’s somewhat dumpy current consort). Such outbreaks of supernaturalism seem suited to a culture grounded in folklore and magic, and add vigorous counterpoint to Holland’s sure-handed deployment of conflicting acts of aggression and conquest (at one point, no fewer than five forces contend for Ethelred’s crown), which eventually embrace the Unready one’s stalwart progeny Aethelstan and Edmund; powerful Danish king Sweyn Forkbeard and his sons (bloodthirsty Harald and innately noble Knut, later Canute); Ethelred’s unconscionable enforcer Eadrich Streona; murderous Jomsviking mercenary leader Thorkel the Tall; and a dozen or so other slashers, burners and co-conspirators. Holland’s battle scenes are brilliantly, viscerally detailed, and she’s even better in quieter scenes that provide illuminating contrasts—notably, those revealing the impulse of Raef’s embattled wife Laissa toward the strange new doctrine of Christianity, and the struggles of ill-fated heir to the throne Edmund to honor his essentially dishonorable father.

The work of a true master of her much maligned genre. If you love history, do not under any circumstances overlook or underestimate Cecelia Holland.

Pub Date: July 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-7653-2192-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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