A long, empathetic vision of place and people is delivered with wide context but less pungency than its title implies.

HOT STEW

The bones of history are glimpsed in modern-day London through a Soho building housing prostitutes, addicts, and a French restaurant.

Mozley’s follow-up to Elmet, her widely praised debut, explores similar themes—property, ownership, gender—but exchanges rural for urban and replaces visceral intensity with something much longer and more sprawling. Through a sizable cast of characters and references to Soho's origins, the author conjures up the notorious London village in all its seedy glory, now awash not only with the sex industry, drinking holes, and crime, but also upscale developments and a more stylish, younger crowd. This modern scenario sits atop earth that has witnessed centuries of human activity, brothels (known as “stews”) having characterized the place for centuries. One particular building houses the Des Sables restaurant and is also home to apartments used by prostitutes, among them Precious. Robert Kerr, a retired gangster and one of Precious’ clients, used to work for gangland boss Donald Howard, who invested his criminal earnings in property and left it all to his youngest daughter, Agatha. She owns and now wants to develop Precious’ building and is trying to evict the prostitutes as well as the homeless drug addicts in the cellar and everyone else. This decision, the women’s response, and the disappearance of Cheryl Lavery, one of the homeless people, drive the action, but Mozley’s focus is more on her web of interconnected characters than events. And while themes of human trafficking, violence, and depravity seam the narrative, relationships and conversations dominate, sometimes a weakness when central figures can seem two-dimensional and peripheral ones lack definition. Cheryl’s transfiguration in the bowels of the city adds a surreal, dreamlike quality to a loose, witty, soapy story that, even while reaching toward cataclysmic events, retains gentle detachment.

A long, empathetic vision of place and people is delivered with wide context but less pungency than its title implies.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64375-155-9

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Algonquin

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

KLARA AND THE SUN

Nobelist Ishiguro returns to familiar dystopian ground with this provocative look at a disturbing near future.

Klara is an AF, or “Artificial Friend,” of a slightly older model than the current production run; she can’t do the perfect acrobatics of the newer B3 line, and she is in constant need of recharging owing to “solar absorption problems,” so much so that “after four continuous days of Pollution,” she recounts, “I could feel myself weakening.” She’s uncommonly intelligent, and even as she goes unsold in the store where she’s on display, she takes in the details of every human visitor. When a teenager named Josie picks her out, to the dismay of her mother, whose stern gaze “never softened or wavered,” Klara has the opportunity to learn a new grammar of portentous meaning: Josie is gravely ill, the Mother deeply depressed by the earlier death of her other daughter. Klara has never been outside, and when the Mother takes her to see a waterfall, Josie being too ill to go along, she asks the Mother about that death, only to be told, “It’s not your business to be curious.” It becomes clear that Klara is not just an AF; she’s being groomed to be a surrogate daughter in the event that Josie, too, dies. Much of Ishiguro’s tale is veiled: We’re never quite sure why Josie is so ill, the consequence, it seems, of genetic editing, or why the world has become such a grim place. It’s clear, though, that it’s a future where the rich, as ever, enjoy every privilege and where children are marshaled into forced social interactions where the entertainment is to abuse androids. Working territory familiar to readers of Brian Aldiss—and Carlo Collodi, for that matter—Ishiguro delivers a story, very much of a piece with his Never Let Me Go, that is told in hushed tones, one in which Klara’s heart, if she had one, is destined to be broken and artificial humans are revealed to be far better than the real thing.

A haunting fable of a lonely, moribund world that is entirely too plausible.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-31817-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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