A fine thriller that’s intriguing and clever, appreciative of art’s power, and grounded in a sensitive humanity—a winner.

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The Vermeer Conspiracy

In this novel, a Yale student investigating her roommate’s disappearance uncovers clues to a centuries-old art mystery and a shadowy group of art collectors.

Sabrina Gutierrez and Danielle Carruthers have little in common besides being Yale roommates. Sabrina was raised by her Colombian single mother who worked two jobs to support her, and Danielle comes from wealth and privilege. But the two become close friends, Sabrina being touched by Danielle’s kindness. She feels compelled to investigate when Danielle goes missing, especially since she’s certain that Whitmore Verhaast, a charismatic Yale art history professor and Danielle’s senior adviser, is involved. Sabrina has reason to think the worst of Verhaast, and as she digs for information, she discovers additional mysterious disappearances, all somehow linked to Johannes Vermeer; a convent in Belgium; and a secret, powerful cabal of art collectors with Nazi ties. And what of Hanna Deursen—a mistress and protégé of Vermeer’s fellow artist Carel Fabritius—whom Verhaast warned Danielle to stop researching? Sabrina’s investigations could bring Verhaast down and destroy some received notions of art history, but powerful forces are amassed against her. Halaban (The Last Commission, 2014, etc.) offers something rare in thriller novels: a strong female friendship and an honest-to-goodness heroine who has no extraordinary skills or weapons beyond her courage, intelligence, compassion, and determination. Bombastic egotists like Dan Brown’s Robert Langdon often inhabit thriller plots; what a pleasure it is to see his ilk skewered in the loathsome Verhaast. In contrast, Sabrina’s willingness to put pride aside if necessary and play dumb stand out as a special kind of bravery few authors would highlight in a badass-worshipping world. Similarly, Halaban’s characterization avoids clichés and is instead both deft and well-rounded. Danielle’s mother, for example, is no snobby Westport matron but a kind, thoughtful woman who treats Sabrina like family. Another nice touch is Sabrina’s growing trust in her sweet boyfriend, Josh, handled with unsentimental but moving realism. The plot moves briskly, with a growing sense of tension, toward a satisfying conclusion.

A fine thriller that’s intriguing and clever, appreciative of art’s power, and grounded in a sensitive humanity—a winner.  

Pub Date: April 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62901-239-1

Page Count: 182

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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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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