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


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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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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