Readers will find this crackerjack thriller hard to put down.

DOWNHILL FAST

A hired killer desperately tries to stay one step ahead of a kingpin’s goons in this novel.

From pedophiles to rapists, Lou Braga disposes of “the garbage the justice system leaves by the curb.” But at the age of 68, the efficient killer is at high risk of a stroke or heart attack. A doctor emphatically urges him to get bypass surgery: “A convenient time is now.” But at present, Braga relates, “Convenient isn’t a word that springs to mind. I have a ruthless crime boss who wants me dead, a duffel bag full of stolen cash, a psycho who thinks he’s a renegade Indian warrior stalking me, and the grandson I never knew I had.” Plus, there is his estranged, substance-abusing daughter, whose life he has put in peril by stealing a half-million dollars 25 years ago from the dreaded Benny Epstein, “the kind of guy who never plays by the rules, always wins, and leaves death in his wake.” Epstein talks the talk (“You probably heard about me. About how I hate big mouths?” he threatens a disrespectful underling. “About what happens to people who have them?”). And though he lives in an assisted living facility, he operates his business “like a geriatric godfather,” according to Braga. Convinced that Epstein is responsible for the car accident that claimed his beloved girlfriend’s life, Braga is determined that for once he will get to see the kingpin lose. But first, he must reconnect with his daughter, Mia, and convince her to get out of town; rescue his dog that Epstein ordered kidnapped; and go up against a number of the crime boss’s vicious henchmen. The title of nationally syndicated cartoonist Summers’ (The Dark and the Dead, 2018, etc.) third novel seems to be baiting snarky critics, but downhill this thriller isn’t. Fast, yes; the pace rarely flags, beginning with Braga’s racing to get to his daughter before Epstein’s thugs do. There are several brutally suspenseful set pieces. Once readers know what the killers are capable of, it’s doubly effective when the author leaves their dirty work to the audience’s imagination. Less successful are the random chapters that provide other characters’ perspectives.

Readers will find this crackerjack thriller hard to put down.

Pub Date: June 29, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-07-310526-7

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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