THE LAST STORYTELLER

Irish-born novelist Delaney (Ireland, 2005, etc.) spins another charming mix of cotton-candy romance and history.

When we last left Ben MacCarthy, world war, social upheaval and sometimes-requited love were thick in the air. Now, at the start of Delaney’s latest, we find him across the pond, facing “a frigid Saturday in late 1956, in my struggling, depressed native land.” He has a job well suited to his curious and artful mind, gathering stories from old-timers, notable among them a yarn maestro who “had, naturally, pored over the monkish volumes, but he had also heard many of his stories in the old ancestral way, in his own home.” Ahem: a man who collects blarney may just commit some on his own, and McCarthy, whom we suspect of being a stand-in for Delaney himself, is a gifted practitioner of the trade. He’s not quite prepared, though, for the return of his beloved Venetia, star of stage and—well, stage—who, having split the blanket in the previous volume in Delaney’s saga, Venetia Kelly’s Traveling Show (2010), breezes merrily back into his life. Or, better, the life of poor battered Ireland, for it’s one of Ben’s pals who has the task of telling him that she’s turned up nearly a quarter-century later: “She’s touring the country. But I’m sure you know it. And you’re avoiding it.” Just to rub it in, the friend adds that she’s just as beautiful as ever, and lonely. Well, gents, start your storytelling engines: Ben roams up and down the old sod seeking both stories and solace, affording Delaney plenty of opportunities for his hallmark tricks of the trade, from Quiet Man–style fisticuffs to goofy asides (“If Greece may be considered the birthplace of the rhetorical question, call Ireland the country that robbed it of all meaning”) and fourth-wall demolition (“The youngster who found the bodies, as I expect you’ve guessed, had come from the local hall”). The story line isn’t exactly Ulysses, but Delaney makes the most of it to craft a light and pleasing entertainment.  

 

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6785-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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