How do you write a politically correct novel about a young white man appropriating Chinese culture? If you’re debut novelist...

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CHINESE COOKING FOR DIAMOND THIEVES

A wry, youthful adventure makes good on its title.

How do you write a politically correct novel about a young white man appropriating Chinese culture? If you’re debut novelist Lowry, you don’t try. Instead, you name your protagonist Tucker—shorthand for white suburban privilege—and give him the background to go with it. Then you have his best friend, Langston Wu, teasingly refer to his “deep, probably neurotic need to try to be part of a culture that neither needs nor wants [him].” Then you leave all that behind and jump into a rollicking plot. Tucker has been kicked out of college right before graduation, so he sets off for St. Louis, where Langston is a chef at a Chinese restaurant. Ever since the friends started working at Langston’s uncle’s place as kids, the kitchen of a Chinese restaurant is the one place Tucker has wanted to be. At a rest stop, he meets a Chinese-American mystery girl who may or may not have something to do with a bunch of stolen diamonds. Corinne is the type of damsel in distress who quips sarcastically about damsels in distress. Tucker quips back while coming to her rescue. He's lucky, too, possessing many skills that come in handy when they land in St. Louis and the plot thickens: He speaks Mandarin, practices a martial art called xing-i, and has an uncanny ability to read and manipulate any situation, including those involving FBI agents. He is annoyingly always right but consistently charming and decently self-deprecating, equal parts culture nerd and movie spy. Intercut with the action are scenes in restaurants and kitchens, which have the feel of insider authenticity and are a mouthwatering pleasure. The payoff for all the sexual tension between Tucker and Corinne is awfully slim; Lowry never resolves the kicked-out-of-college issue; and despite his awareness of it, he still glosses over the issue of cultural appropriation. But there’s food, humor and missing diamonds. It’s a fun read.

Pub Date: July 8, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-547-97331-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2014

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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