A mostly enjoyable, old-school Western.

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THE APPRENTICESHIP OF NIGEL BLACKTHORN

A coming-of-age novel tells the story of an orphaned boy learning to survive in the Old West.

In 1853, the Blackthorn family arrives in West Texas from Wales so that its patriarch, the Methodist minister John, can spread the gospel of Jesus to the “wild heathens on the untamed prairies.” But his would-be flock has other ideas, and a Comanche attack leaves everyone in the family dead except for 13-year-old Nigel, who hides in the hollow stump of a tree. When the muleteer Pascal LeBrun wanders through the burned-out campsite a day later, he mistakes the lone survivor for a ghost: “A black apparition rose unsteadily from the funeral pyre—a wavering shadow in the fading light. Ashes scattered as the ghost-like wraith rose, becoming a smoky, wavering illusion.” LeBrun, a defrocked priest, rescues the boy, though he makes him work for his food—something that the spoiled Nigel has not had to do up to this point. Life on the prairie is hard for anyone. For a doughy orphan apprentice to a French-speaking muleteer, it’s doubly difficult. Nigel will have to get tough if he wants to seek revenge on the raiders who killed his family, but first he’ll have to learn how to navigate his new life as a trader on the frontier. In this series opener, Kelso (California Bound, 2017, etc.) writes in a measured prose that deftly summons the diction and texture of life on the prairie in the mid-19th century: “Pascal rode in silence while he glanced at the mules before studying the nearby plains. By summer’s middle, the rolling prairie had dried, withering to various shades of brown from light tan to dark-brown wallows.” The story is a fairly straightforward one and, in its focus on skill acquisition and personal growth, is reminiscent of teenage novels from an earlier era. (Its depiction of Native Americans as wise bestowers of nicknames and ancient knowledge is a less endearing throwback.) LeBrun and Nigel make a compelling pair, and readers should look forward to the orphan’s further adventures.

A mostly enjoyable, old-school Western.

Pub Date: Oct. 16, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Beachfront Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 30, 2018

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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