A haunting story told with quiet, emotional power.

THE POWER LINE

A rugged woodsman from the Adirondacks is drawn into the dangerous world of bootlegging in Shaw’s debut novel set in the 1920s.

François Germaine grows up in Lake Aurora in New York state’s Adirondack Mountains, a densely forested area with which he has an intimate familiarity. He abandons engineering school at nearby Clarkson University in Potsdam in 1914, despite having real talent in that area; instead, he joins the U.S. Army, establishing himself as a war hero as he fights in Mexico and France. However, he returns to his hometown a sullen, quick-tempered man who’s inclined to drink to terrible excess. He finds work with an electric company constructing power lines throughout the region and soon stumbles into an opportunity to become a bootlegger, partnering with his best friend, Alonzo “Lonnie” Monroe, to transport illicit booze smuggled in from Canada during the Prohibition years for Legs Diamond, a relatively minor New York City gangster. However, the lucrative side gig turns increasingly dangerous as the pair go from being couriers to “bootlegger’s henchmen.” When someone murders a member of a rival New York outfit, the notoriously brutal gangster Dutch Schultz blames Diamond, and a gang war erupts that threatens to bury François and Lonnie. Throughout, Shaw depicts the two friends as aging relics in a vanishing world, and he poignantly describes their connection to their home: “They learned the ground by hearing it described over and over, even while in the womb, so when they got to a place for the first time, invited along to help and do chores at age ten or twelve, they already knew where they were and how it related to the whole.”

The novel is split into two parts; in the first, Lonnie tells the tale of his misadventures with François to local amateur historian Abel St. Martin, and the second delves into the private journal of Rosalyn Orloff,  a brilliant woman who studied with philosopher William James while at Radcliffe College and was friends with Gertrude Stein. Rosalyn also crosses paths with François, and her account of him serves as a kind of ballast to Lonnie’s, as his credibility is suspect: “He’s always trafficked in howlers, lies and tall tales, hackneyed old homilies about the side-hill winder, the snow snake, the hide-behind,” according to St. Martin.Shaw’s poetic, elegiac style is affectingly melancholic and the story deftly raises provocative questions about the extent to which one can see clearly into a “still-murky past.” François is a memorably well-drawn character—hardened by a violent life but still achingly vulnerable. And Lonnie, in his 80s when he relates his story, is a moving embodiment of heartbreak. In a way, though, the Adirondacks itself are the true center of the novel, and François and Lonnie preemptively mourn its death even as they contribute to it: “The big woods are gone,” Lonnie says at one point, adding, “I’m gonna be dead myself soon enough, and I want them dams making power before I go.”

A haunting story told with quiet, emotional power.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-977233-35-6

Page Count: 312

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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