Treat yourself to this one.


The intricate plotting of traditional noir novels (and perhaps specifically the honeycombed structures of James Ellroy’s contemporary updatings of them) are expertly echoed and parodied in this terrific second novel by Grand, author of the oddball Kafkaesque debut novel Louse (1998).

Set in a city much like 1930s New York, just after the repeal of Prohibition, it’s a vertiginously intricate tale that begins when 30ish Victor Ribe is released from prison after 15 years served for murders he didn’t commit. Grand weaves back and forth in time, patiently unearthing the buried connections among Victor’s drug-addicted past; incidents of strike and sabotage at the Fief munitions plant; ANB (Alcohol and Narcotics Bureau) Commissioner Harry Shortz’s compromised senatorial candidacy; physician-abortionists père et fils Jerome and Arthur Brilovsky and their intimacy with the circle of opium-addicted socialite art patron Celeste Martin; Fief dispatcher Freddy Stillman’s despairingly overextended long dark night of the soul; and the research of tough-gal reporter Faith Rapoport—whose father Sam had covered Ribe’s murder trial. By the time shady p.i. Benny Rudolph realizes he has “been taking part in a plot he couldn’t see clearly in his mind,” readers will have long since felt the same way. But Grand somehow pulls it all together, keeping us hooked with his zesty, over-the-top period prose (“He looked as sad as a clarinet with a splintered reed”) and lively array of mysteriously mutually involved suspicious characters. Grand’s brilliant plot is too . . . well, grand to give away. But you may as well know that crooked narcotics cops and politicos figure in it, along with several duplicitous dames who conceal rather more than their plunging décolletages might lead you to guess, and that if Victor Ribe (remember him?) actually was framed, it may have had something to do with the aftershocks of the Russian Revolution, and a purloined painting (entitled “The Disappearing Body”) executed, so to speak, by folk artist Evgeny Rodhinsky.

Treat yourself to this one.

Pub Date: March 5, 2002

ISBN: 0-385-50034-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Nan A. Talese

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2002

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It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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