Melancholy, evocative prose and roman à clef subplots from the heyday of the Hollywood studios effectively create...


The murder of a washed-up B-movie actress takes a costar on a bittersweet journey down memory lane.

Before WWII, ruggedly handsome John Ray Horn starred in a handful of lesser studio westerns. After a stint in the army and a misstep that resulted in prison, Horn is working as the sidekick to Joseph Mad Crow, another former actor. Between his casino, his remote ranch, and his wild teenage daughter Cassie, Mad Crow has his hands full. He relies on Horn like a brother, especially when the righteous duo is investigating the occasional murder (Clea’s Moon, 2003). While exacting justice on two rednecks who assaulted Cassie, Horn and Mad Crow run into Rose Galen, once Horn’s costar, now years past her salad days. So changed is she by drink and hard times that he barely recognizes her. Living in the ramshackle Rook House, she scrapes together a living on the wrong side of the law. The couple reminisce awkwardly, and Horn extends a helping hand, but too late to prevent someone from brutally killing Rose. Under the circumstances, finding the murderer seems the least he can do. But the investigation means unearthing painful skeletons from his past, tangling with police detective Luther Coby, and keeping an eye on Cassie, who thinks she can solve the crime herself.

Melancholy, evocative prose and roman à clef subplots from the heyday of the Hollywood studios effectively create split-level nostalgia.

Pub Date: May 24, 2004

ISBN: 0-399-15198-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2004

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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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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