Multilayered expat saga best as a showcase of its exotic setting.


Cassowary Hill


In this debut novel, a British expatriate’s ghostwriting gig leads to a political showdown involving his retired spook neighbor in Queensland.

Tom Pryce-Bowyer, 52, returns from his travels to find Alfred, resident cassowary, on his cabin doorstep in the Queensland rainforest. Fortunately, the nearly 5-foot-2-inch bird is a “gentle giant”; indeed, Tom’s few human neighbors are more problematic, particularly Jack Tryvet, a 60-something and former military intelligence agent who, like Tom, is a British expatriate. Tom discovered that Jack had a long-running affair with Tom’s Canadian doctor wife, Paulette, which led to Tom’s recent divorce. Tom went to the United States because Emmi Jay—a then-married American he met when he and Paulette did volunteer work in Fiji as part of “a hippy diaspora” of the 1970s—proposed Tom as a ghostwriter for a book by Bia Moraes, a celebrated photographer. Tom gets into a long-distance relationship with Emjay and works on Bia’s book. Bia visits Australia, and she and her friends enlist Jack’s help to expose a villainousU.S. general who disobeyed orders during atrocities in late-1990s East Timor, which included the murder of Bia’s lover. The general meets with Jack in Queensland, bringing deadly tumult to Tom’s refuge, although by novel’s end, new hope arises for the aging writer. Debut author de Vaux drops Graham Greene’s name several times and also has Jack describe himself as “the very double of Flashman Paget.” Although there are echoes of Greene in de Vaux’s descriptive tour of exotic locales and the moral quagmires faced by his expatriate characters, Jack isn’t quite convincing as a dashing character. Likewise, the tensions between him and first-person narrator Tom are rather glossed over as Paulette disappears from the book. Tom’s new romance is also somewhat tepid, especially juxtaposed with East Timor–related events. Still, the final sequence with the general is quite riveting, the suspense and danger heightened by Queensland’s strange, wondrous natural habitat.

Multilayered expat saga best as a showcase of its exotic setting.

Pub Date: Oct. 20, 2015


Page Count: 259

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2015

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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