An endearing, if patchy, love letter to Iran.

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THE OUTCAST

In this novel by Rashidi (Tales of Iran, 2013), a young man, recently released from an Iranian jail, falls in love with a woman who’s strictly off-limits.

Kazem is not a bad man; he simply enjoys living on the fringes of the law. Just out of prison, he returns to the streets of Tehran to seek out his scoundrel companions. He finds them decaying in a murky world of opium and arrack (an alcoholic drink). Out of the skid row squalor, however, emerges a vision of hope: the beautiful Maryam, daughter of a wealthy hajji. For Kazem, it’s love at first sight, and he sets about wooing her immediately. Maryam remains gentle yet aloof; she’s certain that her father will never consent to her marrying a penniless man with such a dubious background. Finally, she reveals to Kazem that the hajji has promised her hand in marriage to someone else, and that she’ll soon wed. However, this only serves to strengthen Kazem’s resolve, and he kidnaps Maryam. He then seeks refuge with her in the city’s backstreets, as her furious father seeks retribution. The novel opens in the summer of 1978, and its backdrop charts Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini’s rise to power. Along the way, Rashidi examines the growing unrest in Tehran and the emergence of its “thug” culture. Essentially, the novel asks difficult questions about what it means to be Iranian and a Muslim when faced with a brutal regime that tortures its own people. The author is at his best when describing Tehran’s crowds, which he does in great detail: “Hairy, grim-faced pahlavans showed off their physical prowess by tearing large copper trays in two….Multicolored chadored women shrieked at their grubby, shabbily-clothed children.” However, these descriptions are often prone to repetition, which can become tiresome. Rashidi also relies too heavily on clichés; at one point, for example, Kazem’s friend Mohsen runs “like a bat out of hell.” Nevertheless, this is a touching, engaging love story punctuated by pleasure and pain, which offers a privileged glimpse into Tehran life.

An endearing, if patchy, love letter to Iran.

Pub Date: July 24, 2014

ISBN: 978-0755216666

Page Count: 246

Publisher: New Generation Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2015

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Another success for the publishing phenom.

UNDER CURRENTS

An abused boy fights back, escapes, then returns as an attorney to his beloved hometown, but just as he’s falling in love with a transplanted landscaper, a series of attacks from shadowy enemies jeopardizes their happiness.

“From the outside, the house in Lakeview Terrace looked perfect.” Which of course means that it wasn't. We're introduced to the horrifying Dr. Graham Bigelow, who beats his wife and, increasingly as the boy gets older, his son, Zane. On the night of Zane’s prom, a particularly savage attack puts him and his sister in the hospital, and his father blames Zane, landing him in jail. Then his sister stands up for him, enlisting the aid of their aunt, and everything changes, mainly due to Zane’s secret diaries. Nearly 20 years later, Zane leaves a successful career as a lawyer to return to Lakeview, where his aunt and sister live with their families, deciding to hang a shingle as a small-town lawyer. Then he meets Darby McCray, the landscaper who’s recently relocated and taken the town by storm, starting with the transformation of his family’s rental bungalows. The two are instantly intrigued by each other, but they move slowly into a relationship neither is looking for. Darby has a violent past of her own, so she is more than willing to take on the risk of antagonizing a boorish local family when she and Zane help an abused wife. Suddenly Zane and Darby face one attack after another, and even as they grow ever closer under the pressure, the dangers become more insidious. Roberts’ latest title feels a little long and the story is slightly cumbersome, but her greatest strength is in making the reader feel connected to her characters, so “unnecessary details” can also charm and engage.

Another success for the publishing phenom.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-20709-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: April 14, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2019

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This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

OUTFOX

An FBI agent is determined to catch a man who bilks and murders wealthy women, but the chase goes slowly.

Brown (Tailspin, 2018, etc.) has published 70 bestsellers, and this one employs her usual template of thriller spiked with romance. Its main character, Drex Easton, is an FBI agent in pursuit of a serial killer, but for him it’s personal. When he was a boy, his mother left him and his father for another man, Weston Graham. Drex believes Graham murdered her and that he has killed at least seven more women after emptying their bank accounts. Now he thinks he has the clever Graham—current alias Jasper Ford—in his sights, and he’s willing to put his career at risk to catch him. The women Ford targets are wealthy, and his new prey is no exception—except that, uncharacteristically, he has married her. Talia Ford proves to be a complication for Drex, who instantly falls in lust with her even though he’s not at all sure she isn’t her husband's accomplice. Posing as a would-be novelist, Drex moves into an apartment next door to the Fords’ posh home and tries to ingratiate himself, but tensions rise immediately—Jasper is suspicious, and Talia has mixed feelings about Drex's flirtatious behavior. When Talia’s fun-loving friend Elaine Conner turns up dead after a cruise on her yacht and Jasper disappears, Drex and Talia become allies. There are a few action sequences and fewer sex scenes, but the novel’s pace bogs down repeatedly in long, mundane conversations. Drex's two FBI agent sidekicks are more interesting characters than he is; Drex himself is such a caricature of a macho man, so heedless of ethics, and so aggressive toward women that it’s tough to see him as a good guy. Brown adds a couple of implausible twists at the very end that make him seem almost as untrustworthy as Graham.

This thriller about the pursuit of a serial killer suffers from an unpleasant hero and a glacial pace.

Pub Date: Aug. 6, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4555-7219-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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