A satisfying, involving, and well-paced story that effectively blends action and redemption.



An apolitical English professor vows vengeance against the Mexican drug cartel that has infiltrated his hometown in this novel.

The cartel Segundo Cortez is escalating its reign of terror in the Mexican city of Veracruz. Its soldiers roam the streets hassling citizens with impunity. They have bribed policemen and become more brazen in their violence. But 32-year-old university professor Nicolás Nolano has elected to “keep out of all that business” and just “concentrate on my profession.” His mother; his brother, Esteban, a district attorney; and a local priest, meanwhile, are very public activists against the cartel. Esteban has recently filed suit against the cartel’s leader, Arturo Méndez. Nicolás insists that they would be better off keeping a low profile. “Laying low and biding your time is not how change is won in the world,” the priest counters. Nicolás’ warning that they are all setting themselves up “for tragedy” inevitably comes true, and he is alerted that he will be next. Though “merely a professor,” the radicalized Nicolás flees to America, where he plans to acquire weapons and training and then return “to strike at Segundo Cortez.” Wall (Water Lessons, 2014) has fashioned a fast-moving, immensely readable payback story. But Nicolás’ transformation might have carried more dramatic weight if on Page 2 he didn’t come to the rescue of a former student being hassled by Cortez thugs or soon after take heroic action to transport another young cartel victim to the hospital. Some dialogue is heavy-handed, as this exchange between Esteban and his brother: “Me, the idealistic attorney. You, the cynical literature professor. Damn, just like when we were boys. You always off in your bedroom, in your own universe, your nose in a book, dreaming. While I was out living. Making dreams into reality.” Ivan Méndez, an increasingly unstable successor to his father (and a former friend of Nicolás), is straight out of central casting. More nuanced is Hector Pantano, the compromised police chief, who has enabled the cartel but is suffering a crisis of conscience.

A satisfying, involving, and well-paced story that effectively blends action and redemption.

Pub Date: June 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-938749-44-5

Page Count: 360

Publisher: Enchanted Indie Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2018

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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