A brash literary thriller that plunges deep into the mind of a criminal and his creator.

Tyler's Last

An elderly crime novelist’s last work and a shady crook’s errand overlap in Winner’s (The Cannibal of Guadalajara, 2010) fictional nod to Patricia Highsmith.

Tyler Wilson is eking out a living in Europe as a small-time player in a crime syndicate when a mysterious phone call brings up demons from the past. The caller says he is Cal Thornton, a man who Tyler thought was long dead. In fact, Tyler killed Cal in Stromboli in the 1960s, then promptly posed as Cal to get the Thorntons to send him money. Tyler is rattled by the call from the impostor, but a new errand from his crime boss sends him to New York. He decides to become an impostor himself and change his identity, go to Connecticut, and try to convince the Thorntons that he is in fact the long-lost Cal. Meanwhile, an old woman in France suffering from Parkinson’s disease gets an email from a former lover, Tab, a Dutch performance artist. The woman is frail, incontinent, and impulsive and decides she can't finish her novel unless she goes to the Netherlands to seek out the elusive Tab. Hiring an Ecuadorean driver, the woman and her trusty cahier hit the road, at which time it becomes clear that her fiction is steering the events in Tyler’s life, and he and Cal may be creations of hers altogether. Winner’s characters are drawn in the style of Highsmith novels, with Tyler taking the Tom Ripley role. Born in Queens to a washerwoman mother, Tyler finds himself decades later in a Spanish villa overlooking the Mediterranean, where he “sips more white Rioja and chews spicy grilled squid at his favorite chiringuito.” Like Ripley, he knows the local vernacular wherever he goes, and his not-gay lifestyle involves the obsessive and destructive pursuit of men. The spitfire old woman, as Highsmith herself, weaves a sordid tale on two different, almost delirious levels. Winner’s writing is intense, provocative, slightly perverse, and satisfyingly comic (Tyler “wants to explain to the false Cal Thornton that the real Cal Thornton had absolutely been burned away—blazing petrol from their motorboat plus several bottles of burning booze”). The competing plots and the novel-within-a-novel format are propelled by an earthy and sexual literary voice whose wily sophistication is both coarse and unique.

A brash literary thriller that plunges deep into the mind of a criminal and his creator.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-937402-78-5

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Outpost19

Review Posted Online: Jan. 26, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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