Run-of-the-mill psychological thriller tarted up with psychobabble.

SACRAMENT OF LIES

Is the governor of Louisiana planning to kill his daughter because he knows that she knows he killed her mother to further his political and romantic interests—or is the daughter simply paranoid?

Thirty-five-year-old Grayson Guillory finds an unmarked video in a hollowed-out copy of a Huey Long biography. Even before she watches it, she suspects the worst, and she’s right: the tape shows Grayson’s mother, shortly before her supposed suicide 11 months before, claiming that her husband, whose political ambitions range beyond the governor’s mansion, was plotting with others to kill her. Still deeply depressed about her mother’s death, Grayson begins to suspect every word and deed of her beloved father—who waited only two months to marry his dead wife’s sister. She also suspects his cronies, including her own fiancé Carter, her father’s closest political aide. Using italics to suggest the divisions growing inside Grayson as she second-guesses her own and everyone else’s motivations, Dewberry (a.k.a. Elizabeth Dewberry Vaughn: Break the Heart of Me, 1994, etc.) effectively depicts her narrator’s increasing paranoia as it races alongside her increasingly reasonable dread. But Grayson is so spoiled and self-centered that readers will find it difficult to care much about her predicament, particularly since the narrow world she and the governor’s entourage inhabit is peopled by others even less likable or believable. Grayson’s mother is the worst sort of Tennessee Williams reject while her father is a Huey Long wannabe. Carter, meanwhile, is a noncharacter whose only interesting trait, collecting fish for his salt-water aquarium, turns out to be a plot device. Since his relationship with Grayson lacks nuance or romance, the fact that he may be manipulating or betraying her isn’t particularly disturbing. In truth, as the body count rises, the mystery of who did what becomes almost comically obvious—despite Dewberry’s ever-so-serious pretensions.

Run-of-the-mill psychological thriller tarted up with psychobabble.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14854-X

Page Count: 240

Publisher: BlueHen/Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2001

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

THE ORPHAN'S TALE

A Jewish trapeze artist and a Dutch unwed mother bond, after much aerial practice, as the circus comes to Nazi-occupied France.

Ingrid grew up in a Jewish circus family in Darmstadt, Germany. In 1934, she marries Erich, a German officer, and settles in Berlin. In 1942, as the war and Holocaust escalate, Erich is forced to divorce Ingrid. She returns to Darmstadt to find that her family has disappeared. A rival German circus clan, led by its patriarch, Herr Neuhoff, takes her in, giving her a stage name, Astrid, and forged Aryan papers. As she rehearses for the circus’ coming French tour, she once again experiences the freedom of an accomplished aerialist, even as her age, late 20s, catches up with her. The point of view shifts (and will alternate throughout) to Noa, a Dutch teenager thrown out by her formerly loving father when she gets pregnant by a German soldier. After leaving the German unwed mothers’ home where her infant has been taken away, either for the Reich’s Lebensborn adoption program or a worse fate, Noa finds work sweeping a train station. When she comes upon a boxcar full of dead or dying infants, she impulsively grabs one who resembles her own child, later naming him Theo. By chance, Noa and Theo are also rescued by Neuhoff, who offers her refuge in the circus, provided she can learn the trapeze. The tour begins with a stop in Thiers, France. Astrid is still leery of her new apprentice, but Noa catches on quickly and soon must replace Astrid in the act due to the risk that a Nazi spectator might recognize her. Noa falls in love with the mayor’s son, Luc, who Astrid suspects is a collaborator. Astrid’s Russian lover, Peter, a clown, tempts fate with a goose-stepping satire routine, and soon the circus will afford little protection to anybody. The diction seems too contemporary for the period, and the degree of danger the characters are in is more often summarized than demonstrated.

An interesting premise imperfectly executed.

Pub Date: Feb. 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-7783-1981-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harlequin MIRA

Review Posted Online: Oct. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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