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THE CAPE DOCTOR

Artfully written but more likely to attract attention for its subject than its author’s craft.

Historical fiction from the award-winning author of Love, in Theory (2012).

During his career as a physician with the Royal Army, James Miranda Barry served at various posts throughout the British Empire. He gained renown not only for improving the health care received by soldiers, but also for demanding better living conditions for enslaved people, prisoners, lepers, and the mentally ill. When he died in 1865, it was revealed that he had female genitalia. At the time, Barry was popularly characterized as a woman masquerading as a man or as a hermaphrodite. Contemporary activists and some historians, though, have claimed him as a transgender hero, noting that he lived his entire adult life as a man and took pains to conceal his body from scrutiny upon death. The tension between these two ways of categorizing Barry illustrates why this novel became controversial before anyone had read it, when Levy described her protagonist as “a heroine for our time, for all time.” Levy points out that her work is fiction—in a move that is likely to assuage no one, she has given her character the name Jonathan Mirandus Perry—but she also insists that she “read and researched [Barry] for years,” according to The Guardian, and rejects the idea that we can retroactively apply concepts like transgender to historical figures, which will sound to some like claims of authority. Her Dr. Perry does not come to realize that he’s a man; instead Perry adopts a new name and puts on a boy’s clothes in order to get an education and lives as a man because he refuses to accept the limitations inflicted on women. Perry refuses a marriage proposal from his friend and benefactor—he learns Perry’s secret—and even hides the birth of their child in order to maintain his public persona and continue his work. The relationship between Perry and Lord Somerton takes up a substantial part of the novel; indeed, it often reads like a Regency romance written by a “literary” author. Levy uses language with care, and there are some beautiful scenes here—particularly those that show Perry discovering his vocation. Describing human dissection, he muses, “The body was not…profaned by examination, as if one were cross-examining God, but honored by attention. Love, all love, is attention.”

Artfully written but more likely to attract attention for its subject than its author’s craft.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-53658-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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