Richly drawn characters in search of a more compelling narrative.

AVIARY

A suspicious fire at a senior residence profoundly affects the elderly denizens and those around them.

The Pheasant Run condo isn’t nearly as grand as it sounds. Cassie McMackin, one of its occupants, is counting pills and contemplating suicide when we meet her. Cassie’s neighbor Viola Six is worried about paying the rent, having lost her savings to a scam promoted by an ex-beau. Down the hall is Leo Uberti, an Italian Jewish artist with a painful past. Hidden in Viola’s basement storage is an abused and bullied 15-year-old, Clayton Spooner. Then there’s Herbie Bonebright, the treacherous new manager of the building, apparently involved in a scheme to oust tenants so Pheasant Run can be converted into a more profitable enterprise. One morning, a fire erupts in Herbie’s apartment. While the blaze is quickly contained, fire inspector Lander Maki thinks it may be arson. Herbie is suddenly nowhere to be found, and Viola Six has vanished too. But this is no geriatric whodunit, and author McNamer is not so concerned with exposing the perp. (When that revelation finally comes, it’s anticlimactic.) She's more interested in the indignities of old age, memory and loss, and what one character calls “the secret of ongoingness.” Much of the writing is quite lyrical, as in the description of Maki’s “beyond-human” sense of smell: “His olfactory sensitivity had become so intimately intertwined with memory that the smell of a remembered presence arrived in tandem with the smell of its absence.” Still, some passages are overwritten, and some plot points seem dubious. The novel also has a bleak undertow, though Maki’s wife, Rhonda, an animal whisperer, exudes eccentric charm and brightens the scenes she’s in. A quasi-happy ending is preceded by many casualties—some of which seem arbitrary.

Richly drawn characters in search of a more compelling narrative.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-57131-138-2

Page Count: 298

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

TOM CLANCY TARGET ACQUIRED

Bentley keeps Jack Ryan Jr.’s life exciting in this latest grand-scale Tom Clancy adventure.

Ryan is in Tel Aviv on an “asset-validation exercise” for a private company referred to as The Campus, and he takes time to hang out at the beach. There, he sees a woman with a child who he can tell is autistic, and he saves her from a knife-wielding attacker. She’s flummoxed; who’d want to hurt her? When mother and son leave, Ryan wants to return the boy’s dropped Captain America toy. “What could go wrong with that?” he muses naïvely. Only three hell-raising threats in one day. Almost immediately he meets agents from Israeli security, Shin Bet. Who is he? What’s he doing there? But though he doesn’t lie about his name, no one ever exclaims, “Wow, you have the same name as the U.S. president. Any connection?” Anyway, Chinese State Security is also interested in the woman, and Jack doesn’t know why. And then mother and son are kidnapped. True to the Clancy style, what begins as the attempted return of a toy mushrooms into a threat of global conflict—“no good deed goes unpunished” is an apt cliché. Other enemies include Iran's Quds Force, an apocalyptic cult—and some smart jihadis, because “the dumb jihadis died a long time ago.” Ryan is a fierce warrior when the need arises, and he refuses a direct order to return to the U.S.: “Sorry, sir…no can do. I’ve got two innocents still at risk—a mother and child.” So even when the bad guys try to crucify him, “nobody did cornered junkyard dog better than Jack.” Meanwhile, an airborne threat may destroy Tel Aviv. The story has some nice wordplay, with helicopters “clawing for altitude like homesick angels,” and the F-35 being “part ballerina, part racehorse, and all killer.” While on the ground “blood flowed and bones broke,” and a female fighter jock has the final say.

Fast, furious Clancy fare, fun even though you already know who wins.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18813-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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