A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

LIES

BASED ON TRUE STORIES

Six witnesses relate their divergent interpretations of a violent incident that took place during the Civil War in this novel based on true stories.

Caroline Anderson lives in Greenbrier County, Virginia, at the Elmhurst house, a “magnificent place” before the Civil War erupted. President Martin Van Buren once picnicked there, but it has since decayed into ruins from neglect. Caroline’s husband, John, suddenly joins the Confederate Army, never to be seen or heard from again, leaving her to fend for herself and her two stepchildren, 8-year-old Sally and glum teenager Samuel. When bedraggled Union soldiers come marching through town, a group of them forcibly enters Caroline’s home, first looking for medical supplies and then for a reprieve from their nomadic discomfort. On May 22, 1863, while Elmhurst is occupied by “horrid Yankees,” a “dreadful incident” occurs, one that leaves two men, one of them a Union soldier, dead. Years later, the incident is investigated by Gen. George L. Scarborough, under the authority of the Department of State. This ingeniously inventive novel by Smith is largely composed of the records of the testimony culled by Scarborough, collected from interviews with six witnesses, including Caroline and two of the soldiers who were in her home that day. The plot is bewitching—the author slowly, with aching suspense, inches toward the incident in question. Meanwhile, a romantic tension and rivalry brews between Caroline and Capt. James Tobin, a “sweet talking” and “handsome” soldier who will be among those who witness the event. Smith cleverly juxtaposes the different accounts, illuminating the paradoxical nature of storytelling, which reveals and conceals simultaneously. As Caroline explains, “What I mean to say is: the information you are after cannot be told in one simple story since it is actually many tales stitched up with each other.”

A tantalizingly kaleidoscopic look at an event that altered its witnesses’ lives forever.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-942294-09-2

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Quarrier Press

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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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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