An entertaining addition to the canon of colonial, upriver journeys.

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CONFLICT ON THE YANGTZE

Kater (Skills of the Warramunga, 2018, etc.) pits his Australian investigators against a Chinese opium cartel in this fourth entry in his historical espionage series.

In 1946, when an MI6 agent is shot in a poppy field in China and then vanishes, British Col. John Cook asks the two best agents of the Commonwealth Investigation Service’s Australian branch—Jamie Munro and Jack “Jacko” O’Brien—to find the missing operative and destroy an opium processing plant. According to MI6, the drugs are being transported down the Yangtze River and later sent “to the USA, the Philippines and Australia.” Munro and O’Brien are dispatched to Manila, where they meet up with American Office of Strategic Services chief Harry Williams, an old ally. They travel to Shanghai, where they meet Lee Drake, an MI6 agent who served in China and was the only witness to the missing agent’s shooting. Postwar China is hardly at peace, as the embattled forces of Chiang Kai-shek vie with the rebellious soldiers of the Chinese Communist Party; in addition, government-empowered smugglers and localized criminal gangs run amok. The CIS agents must travel up the Yangtze River in a small boat and sail deep into unfriendly territory, and what they find will lead them unexpectedly back home. Throughout this installment, Kater’s prose evokes the story’s time and place with specificity and color: “Red Brandon had desperately continued his search for the hatless man in a GI uniform whom he had first sighted in company with Roddy’s dog, Zhiming. He was accompanied by eight of the Chinese militia, only known to him as the Black Minbing.” The author once again proves to be adept at using his characters’ adventures to explore the minutiae of various countries in Asia and Oceania after World War II. That said, he always brings the action back to Australia, which fans may find a bit too predictable. The novel’s particular brand of Anglophilic nostalgia will not be every reader’s cup of tea, but those who enjoyed the previous books in the series will surely appreciate this newest one.

An entertaining addition to the canon of colonial, upriver journeys.

Pub Date: March 4, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-921240-77-5

Page Count: 270

Publisher: Zeus Publications

Review Posted Online: May 10, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2019

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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