A promising thriller about a famous serial killer in which the suspense prematurely dissipates.

HIM

A novel offers a new perspective on one of history’s most notorious figures.

This 19th-century tale starts innocently enough with two Malay boys, lonely rich kid Maurice and Mawken, the poor local boy he befriends. At first, Maurice educates the illiterate Mawken, who in turn gives him advice. But as Maurice grows up, he yearns to strike out on his own and to leave Mawken behind. Before that can happen, the two end up on the run after the mysterious murders of their parents, supposedly by pirates and witnessed only by Mawken. The two find work on a cargo ship, with Maurice as a cook and Mawken as a crew member. Partway through the journey, Maurice witnesses Mawken kill the ship’s brutal captain, but he stupidly picks up the murder weapon and is blamed for the crime by his fellow crewmates. Luckily, a storm severely damages the ship and Maurice is briefly free of his past. Then Mawken shows up again, and death follows him, with the kindly but weak-willed Maurice unable to escape his dangerous friend: “There was no question or indication I had any recourse but to follow his plan. It was as if he made the decisions and I meekly followed.” Maurice is the unfortunate observer of a series of gruesome murders of women, first in Austin, Texas, and later in the slums of London, which leads to the Jack the Ripper mythos. The strength of Lee’s (Aquasaurus, 2016, etc.) intriguing second novel is the well-researched, vivid passages describing life aboard a cargo ship and in 19th-century Austin and London. The narrative moves along swimmingly in those parts. But the author tips his twist ending way too soon. In addition, anyone who gets close to Maurice tends to disappear quickly, sometimes permanently, while Mawken prefers to stay in the shadows (“I am not seen if I don’t want to be seen”). This means there isn’t much of a cast to experience other than the two polar-opposite main characters. The key question that remains is how long will it take Maurice to realize what readers already have.

A promising thriller about a famous serial killer in which the suspense prematurely dissipates.

Pub Date: July 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9971284-8-2

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Aim-Hi Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 14, 2019

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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