A gritty read for its gore, drugs, and profanity, but possessed of a raw and honest eloquence.

WHO THEY WAS

A young man describes his several years in London’s gang culture in this challenging debut.

The narrator, Snoopz, who’s occasionally called Gabriel or Krauze, describes the violence, substance abuse, and crime that permeate the battered housing towers of South Kilburn—“eighteen floors of rusty concrete silence and windows repeating themselves and all of it holding the sky back.” Gang rivalries make every day a gantlet, every slight becomes grounds for vengeance. Knife assaults are common and graphically described. And yet, any form of action might seem nearly miraculous given the prodigious quantities of drugs and booze consumed. Days (and pages) pass with a numbing sameness, punctuated by dealing or using drugs or mugging wealthy citizens in brazen street assaults. Jail time is inevitable, with all its soul-crushing routines and perils not much different from life outside. Snoopz looks to be one of the rare escapees from the nightmarish milieu as he pursues a university degree in literature. To the growing genre of drug-riddled fiction—Irvine Welsh, Denis Johnson, Joel Mowdy, Nico Walker—Krauze adds a flourish, a kind of harsh music, with his use of gang argot. Imagine Riddley Walker combined with A Clockwork Orange: “top shotters who make p’s but move too d-low for the eaters to rob them” (translation: top drug dealers who earn a lot of money but are too careful for thieves to hit them). Snoopz is intelligent, but he also extols the gangster life’s bling and transient glories, its tests of manhood (women in the hood are there mainly for sex). Krauze doesn’t offer fresh wisdom on the causes of or cures for the hard life he grew up in, but maybe an insider’s artfully gruesome view can turn the right minds to seeking better solutions.

A gritty read for its gore, drugs, and profanity, but possessed of a raw and honest eloquence.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-63557-766-2

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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