Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Harry Houdini meet in New York and set about plumbing the depths of spiritualism, while an intrepid reporter sniffs around for the truth.

The second novel from Brownstein (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Apt. 3W, 2002) features earnest debates on the afterlife and the thrumming energy of Manhattan in full Prohibition bloom. Set in the spring of 1922, it concerns the relationship between old friends Doyle and Houdini. The normally scientific Doyle has become a believer in spiritualism, something that Houdini has made it his mission to debunk. This low-key conflict between the men is brought to the fore by Doyle’s championing of famous (and heart-stoppingly beautiful) medium Margery and the attempts of hard-driving reporter Molly Goodman, who tries her best to get the scoop on what Doyle and Houdini are bickering about. The twined stories of the Doyle-Houdini debate and Molly’s investigation of same don’t quite come to a satisfying conclusion—indeed, Molly’s idealistically conflicted inner life is ultimately more engaging than much of the fanciful plot. But the author does have a knack for coloring pages with odd detail, as in his description of Molly’s living arrangement: “Molly rented a room in a Greenwich Village walk-up on Gay Street, where the last of the neighborhood Negroes lived. The bathroom was in the hall, and there was a painter, Pignoli, who used the tub to wash his terrier, Goldman.” Mindful of the charlatanism of the séances and spirit photographs that dominated the spiritualist fad of the time, he is careful not to let the book become overly cynical and even leaves open the chance that Margery could be an actual visionary (it’s just that her visions are not of departed relatives but of calamitous historical events soon to come) The writing is good, but there’s quite a lot that doesn’t come together.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2005

ISBN: 0-393-05152-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2005

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Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.


Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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