DEATH IN VERACRUZ

This ambitious novel memorably brings together recent history, horrific crimes, and an ever present sense of corruption.

A reporter investigates corruption and wrestles with complex personal entanglements in this tense novel set in 1970s Mexico.

Aguilar Camín’s novel spans more than a decade in the life of its narrator, an unnamed journalist whose slow ascent toward prominence—one character calls him “a national opinionmaker”—acts as a backdrop for the events that follow. The first chapter traces the narrator’s friend Rojano’s slow rise in politics and sets up the complex dynamic between Rojano and his wife, Anabela, for whom the narrator not-so-secretly pines. What emerges from this is an intricate maze of corruption involving land rights, megalomaniacal union officials, crime scene photos of dubious authenticity, and public figures less than concerned with the public good. One particularly sinister figure is fond of the phrase “whoever can add can divide,” which occurs throughout the book, sounding equally inspirational and threatening. The narrator’s world-weary observations crop up again and again: he notes that a man nicknamed Smiley was thus dubbed after a gunshot to the face, which “left him with an indelible smile that couldn’t be wiped off.” That balance of violence and gallows humor infuses the novel. Another character tells the narrator that “history is full of revolutions the police have outlived,” which furthers the cynical mood. Over the course of the novel, Anabela becomes more and more prominent, and the narrator is often left to puzzle over the motivation behind, and truth of, a series of violent acts in the wake of her clashes with a union leader. Aguilar Camín’s fondness for using specific dates in the narrative furthers the sense of realism, even as the novel’s events become more ambiguous.

This ambitious novel memorably brings together recent history, horrific crimes, and an ever present sense of corruption.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-936182-92-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Schaffner Press

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2015

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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