Though somewhat unpolished, this novel of family history and immigration reform offers a compelling take on an overlooked...



Hecker (Full Circle: A Journey in Search of Roots, 2012) makes his fiction debut with the story of George Schwartz, a by-the-book immigration judge who changes his approach to life and work after learning about his ancestors’ struggles with deportation.

George, a descendant of German immigrants to the United States, has begun to investigate his family history, so he travels to Germany to meet relatives and learn the story of another branch of his family. There, he discovers survivors of the Soviet gulag system among his Russian-German relatives, and their antipathy toward the bureaucrats who imprisoned the family leads him to rethink his role in enforcing America’s immigration law. George returns to his work in Seattle, where his girlfriend, Maria, a newspaper reporter, is pleased to discover his change of heart. Together, they get to know Seattle’s immigrant population, and George begins to organize his fellow judges to be more lenient in their interpretation of the harsh 1996 immigration law. While George is content with his professional decisions and with his personal life—Maria agrees to marry him—he faces threats from anti-immigrant hard-liners, and a sudden twist at book’s end puts him in peril. The cliffhanger ending leaves the primary storyline unresolved, so readers might wonder whether a sequel is in the works. Hecker has clearly done his research into the legalities of immigration in the late 1990s, the time of the book’s setting, and in an easy-to-follow fashion, he guides readers through the many federal agencies involved. The book is less successful, however, at incorporating other large quantities of background information; characters often tell each other things they already know merely as a means to inform the reader. That, combined with minor but frequent errors in spelling and punctuation, as well as awkward prose—“He shook his head, realizing that the United States had its own brand of nativists, often called ‘rednecks,’ who made life miserable for newcomers.”—may leave readers appreciating the novel’s approach to an often-overlooked subject while wanting the story to be told in a more thoroughly edited narrative.

Though somewhat unpolished, this novel of family history and immigration reform offers a compelling take on an overlooked subject.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2014

ISBN: 978-1492330202

Page Count: 288

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 7, 2014

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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