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THE UNVEILING OF POLLY FORREST

A MYSTERY

Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.

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In this Michigan-based mystery set in the 1930s, there are hints that a farmer’s much-younger wife had something to do with his deadly accident.

The newspaper report that 41-year-old Samuel R. Forrest died “in an unfortunate farm accident” omitted the gory details. The gate to the pen holding Black Devil, the farm’s bull, had been left open. The beast got out, apparently became enraged, and tore apart Sam’s body, ripping away his face. The paper also didn’t say that Sam’s wife, Polly Wolcott Forrest, “as pretty as any screen star,” is a mere 20 years old. Polly’s sister, Sarah Wolcott Johnson, older by 11 years, lives on the farm next door with her husband, the Rev. Wesley Johnson, and their three children. Wesley remembers how Polly once flirted with him, and his “unhealthy desire for Polly had kept growing.” Townspeople notice the fashionably dressed, blue-eyed blond does not look or play the part of a grieving widow. Polly stops attending church and starts cruising the town with former neighbor Jacob Frond in his Model A. Because of reports that the Forrests had an unhappy marriage—“everyone in the congregation had seen Polly’s bruises,” and there were rumors that Sam’s weight loss was due to poisoning by his wife—the local sheriff conducts multiple interviews with Polly and the Johnsons. The lawman wants to determine who left the gate open to Black Devil’s pen. Sarah, Wesley, and Polly take turns narrating different chapters of Whitney’s book. Polly’s portion, primarily epistolary, has her writing to her Connecticut-based mother, encouraging her to visit and relaying her dreams of becoming a milliner (she labels veils “the fashion statement of the moment”). The different points of view and the clues to Sam’s personality and death are quite engaging. The pacing moves the story along briskly, and historical references enrich the novel. Setting the Depression-era tone are conversations about massive job losses and President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s agricultural programs, plus vivid descriptions of patched hand-me-downs and “long, hungry, gaunt faces.” Yet a hopeful tone prevails, and images of Michigan meadows, apple picking, and sunshine layered through puffy clouds are skillfully laced in the engrossing tale.

Hats off to this compelling historical mystery.

Pub Date: March 15, 2022

ISBN: 979-8-9851601-0-9

Page Count: 310

Publisher: Lake William Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 28, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE SWALLOWED MAN

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

A retelling of Pinocchio from Geppetto's point of view.

The novel purports to be the memoirs of Geppetto, a carpenter from the town of Collodi, written in the belly of a vast fish that has swallowed him. Fortunately for Geppetto, the fish has also engulfed a ship, and its supplies—fresh water, candles, hardtack, captain’s logbook, ink—are what keep the Swallowed Man going. (Collodi is, of course, the name of the author of the original Pinocchio.) A misfit whose loneliness is equaled only by his drive to make art, Geppetto scours his surroundings for supplies, crafting sculptures out of pieces of the ship’s wood, softened hardtack, mussel shells, and his own hair, half hoping and half fearing to create a companion once again that will come to life. He befriends a crab that lives all too briefly in his beard, then mourns when “she” dies. Alone in the dark, he broods over his past, reflecting on his strained relationship with his father and his harsh treatment of his own “son”—Pinocchio, the wooden puppet that somehow came to life. In true Carey fashion, the author illustrates the novel with his own images of his protagonist’s art: sketches of Pinocchio, of woodworking tools, of the women Geppetto loved; photos of driftwood, of tintypes, of a sculpted self-portrait with seaweed hair. For all its humor, the novel is dark and claustrophobic, and its true subject is the responsibilities of creators. Remembering the first time he heard of the sea monster that was to swallow him, Geppetto wonders if the monster is somehow connected to Pinocchio: “The unnatural child had so thrown the world off-balance that it must be righted at any cost, and perhaps the only thing with the power to right it was a gigantic sea monster, born—I began to suppose this—just after I cracked the world by making a wooden person.” Later, contemplating his self-portrait bust, Geppetto asks, “Monster of the deep. Am I, then, the monster? Do I nightmare myself?”

A deep and grimly whimsical exploration of what it means to be a son, a father, and an artist.

Pub Date: Jan. 26, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18887-3

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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