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MESMER'S DISCIPLE

History, action, the supernatural and intelligent discourse; this novel holds something for everyone.

Set in 1840s St. Louis and New York, this historical supernatural thriller pits Alvord Rawn, a vigilante-style New York cop with anger management issues, against Count Abendroth, a demonic mesmerist who has painter Charles Deas in his thrall.

Deas, a historical figure famous for frontier paintings, mysteriously went insane after becoming involved in mesmerism while in St. Louis. He returned to New York and in 1848 was committed to the Bloomingdale asylum. Swanson skillfully weaves the artist’s tale into his debut novel. Police Capt. Alvord Rawn is dismissed from the New York City Police Department for his vengeful, ruthless massacre of an Irish gang. He takes a job as a private detective working for Deas’ mother, who fears her son is losing his mind. Mrs. Deas pays Rawn well to retrieve Deas from St. Louis—by force if necessary. Swanson gives the work a 19th century feel by salting it with historical detail and imbuing characters with the manners and attitudes of the era. He also makes use of 19th century prose style to mimic period writers: “Stout was the truncheon in his belt, hickory in origin and delightfully wieldy.” This approach works, but when Swanson uses modern idioms, it jars; e.g., “shit like this”; “Damn straight I did”; “smoked his competition.” Along the way, Rawn teams up with Finnbar Fagan, a would-be Irish writer, and Marcel Durand, a true frontiersman. Both are reliable allies and thinking men, allowing Swanson to explore various ideas concerning the nature of honor, justice, race relations and art in 19th century America. As the story progresses, Deas partners with Rawn and company to bring down Abendroth as it becomes increasingly obvious the count is evil, tapping into a demonic well for his powers. Thoughtful and action-packed, with a final showdown that is both exciting and gratifying—a fine first novel.

History, action, the supernatural and intelligent discourse; this novel holds something for everyone.

Pub Date: Dec. 11, 2012

ISBN: 978-0988537064

Page Count: 386

Publisher: Riverrun Bookstore Inc

Review Posted Online: Feb. 22, 2014

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE RUMOR

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Hilderbrand’s latest cautionary tale exposes the toxic—and hilarious—impact of gossip on even the most sophisticated of islands.

Eddie and Grace Pancik are known for their beautiful Nantucket home and grounds, financed with the profits from Eddie’s thriving real estate company (thriving before the crash of 2008, that is). Grace raises pedigreed hens and, with the help of hunky landscape architect Benton Coe, has achieved a lush paradise of fowl-friendly foliage. The Panciks’ teenage girls, Allegra and Hope, suffer invidious comparisons of their looks and sex appeal, although they're identical twins. The Panciks’ friends the Llewellyns (Madeline, a blocked novelist, and her airline-pilot husband, Trevor) invested $50,000, the lion’s share of Madeline’s last advance, in Eddie’s latest development. But Madeline, hard-pressed to come up with catalog copy, much less a new novel, is living in increasingly straightened circumstances, at least by Nantucket standards: she can only afford $2,000 per month on the apartment she rents in desperate hope that “a room of her own” will prime the creative pump. Construction on Eddie’s spec houses has stalled, thanks to the aforementioned crash. Grace, who has been nursing a crush on Benton for some time, gives in and a torrid affair ensues, which she ill-advisedly confides to Madeline after too many glasses of Screaming Eagle. With her agent and publisher dropping dire hints about clawing back her advance and Eddie “temporarily” unable to return the 50K, what’s a writer to do but to appropriate Grace’s adultery as fictional fodder? When Eddie is seen entering her apartment (to ask why she rented from a rival realtor), rumors spread about him and Madeline, and after the rival realtor sneaks a look at Madeline’s rough draft (which New York is hotly anticipating as “the Playboy Channel meets HGTV”), the island threatens to implode with prurient snark. No one is spared, not even Hilderbrand herself, “that other Nantucket novelist,” nor this magazine, “the notoriously cranky Kirkus.”

Once again, Hilderbrand displays her gift for making us care most about her least likable characters.

Pub Date: June 16, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-316-33452-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2015

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