An engrossing re-creation of the world of slavery, rich in social detail and psychological nuance.

SLAVES, MASTERS AND TRADERS

HISTORICAL FICTION

Human bondage connects the lives of people on three continents in this sprawling saga of trans-Atlantic enslavement.

Ackroyd’s historical novel examines slavery in 1800 from the perspectives of dozens of perpetrators and victims. One plotline involves wealthy Scottish financiers of the slavery trade, including Aaron Migu, a businessman who outfits the schooner The Spirit of the Clyde; Stanley Staymann, a young nobleman with fantasies of owning enslaved people in America; and guilt-stricken George McCallum, who uses profits from selling human beings to support an abolitionist writer. A second thread follows inhabitants of Banyan Village on the West African coast, including 5-year-old Abebi; her mother, Efia; and her father, Thimba, a superlative hunter and closeted gay man. Europe and Africa collide on the Louisiana plantation of “the chevalier,” an aging patriarch who prefers André, his enslaved son by a concubine, to his other son and heir, Jacques; the latter conspires with his mother to poison the chevalier and humble André. The three narrative threads come together when the Banyan villagers are kidnapped and shipped on the Spirit to New Orleans for auction just as Stanley arrives to take control of the chevalier’s plantation. Ackroyd’s panorama steeps readers in dense, colorful historical detail. There are a few anachronistic notions, though, as when an ethnomusicologist solicits “slave input on how to decorate the chapel using African motifs and crafts within a Christian framework.” The author pens gripping scenes of the horrors of the Middle Passage and the plantation’s cane fields, but her focus is also sociological, addressing Scotland’s class hierarchy as it confronts newfangled ideas about human rights; the intricacies of West African religion; and queasy contradictions of plantation society. Ackroyd’s prose sometimes feels didactic (“He now understands the word libertarianism….It means ‘rejecting institutional authority and replacing it with trust in individual judgment’ ”), but she often achieves lyricism that illuminates characters’ lives: “The hunters, knowing life is mere clothing for a spirit that never dies, give thanks to Gran Legbwa in a wild dance and song.”

An engrossing re-creation of the world of slavery, rich in social detail and psychological nuance.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-79608-662-1

Page Count: 546

Publisher: Xlibris Corp

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Ingeniously structured and so damn entertaining; this novel is as ambitious as its heroines—but it never falls from the sky.

GREAT CIRCLE

The intertwined journeys of an aviatrix born in 1914 and an actress cast to play her a century later.

In a novel twice as long as and an order of magnitude more complex than the well-received Seating Arrangements (2012) and Astonish Me (2014), Shipstead reveals breathtaking range and skill, expertly juggling a multigenerational historical epic and a scandal-soaked Hollywood satire, with scenes playing out on land, at sea, and in the air. "We were both products of vanishment and orphanhood and negligence and airplanes and uncles. She was like me but wasn't. She was uncanny, unknowable except for a few constellations I recognized from my own sky": These are the musings of actress Hadley Baxter. She has been familiar with the story of Marian Graves, an aviatrix who disappeared while trying to circumnavigate the globe, since she was just a little girl—before she became a pop-culture phenomenon, turned into a movie star with a mega-franchise, accidentally destroyed her career, and was given the chance to reinvent herself...by playing Marian in a biopic. The film, Peregrine, is based at least partly on the logbook of Marian's "great circle," which was found wrapped in a life preserver on an ice floe near the South Pole. Shipstead's story begins decades earlier, with the christening of the Josephina Eterna in Glasgow in 1909. The unhappy woman who breaks the bottle on her bow, the laconic captain who takes the ship to sea, the woman he beds onboard, the babies that result from this union—Marian Graves and her twin, Jamie—the uncle who has to raise them when their mother drowns and their father disappears: The destinies of every one of these people, and many more unforgettable characters, intersect in ways that reverberate through a hundred years of story. Whether Shipstead is creating scenes in the Prohibition-era American West, in wartime London, or on a Hollywood movie set, her research is as invisible as it should be, allowing a fully immersive experience.

Ingeniously structured and so damn entertaining; this novel is as ambitious as its heroines—but it never falls from the sky.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65697-5

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more