Engrossing, fiercely intelligent fiction redolent of another era.

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Winterside's Wanderyear

Hemingway casts a shadow on this novel of romance and student rebellion in postwar Spain, inspired by the author’s Harper Prize–winning Vangel Griffin (1960).

The year is 1956, and Jude Winterside, disillusioned with his life in New York, makes himself a deal: He’ll leave his wife and career to become a student at the University in Madrid, and if, after one year, he has not “found some reason to continue living longer,” he’ll swallow pills and brandy and enter the abyss. Fortunately for him, events occur that pierce his ennui and make him feel alive for the first time. He meets Alonso, an idealistic but disturbed critic of Generalissimo Franco and the Falangistas, and Alonso’s sister, Satry, with whom Jude begins a romantic relationship. Woven into the action, in ways reminiscent of Cervantes’s Don Quixote, Hugo’s Les Miserables and Papa’s The Sun Also Rises, are passages of spoken and internal dialogue that grapple with larger philosophical issues. What is the nature of love? What is honor? Is all life pain? These are earnest explorations in a riveting story but with a few flaws. In apparently reworking his prized novel from 50 years ago, Lobsenz (Succession, 2008, etc.) presumably intended, at least in part, to make it more relevant to modern audiences; however, his skillful but mannered prose seems lifted directly from that earlier era. Most sentences are in the active voice and contractions are often avoided; enigmatic non sequiturs abound in what could only be a conscious emulation of Hemingway, a hero to many writers of Lobsenz’s generation. The romantic duo of Jude and Satry also seems an obvious and intentional reincarnation of Jake and Lady Brett, although Jude’s impotence is only metaphorical, and there’s nothing androgynous about Satry. The meditations on love, sex and gender seem dated—a reflection of the story’s original time period—but could have benefitted from a more nuanced treatment, acknowledging the passage of years since Vangel Griffin’s publication. Still, there are moments in the story—atop the tower in Avila, in a seedy Madrid bar—when a deep understanding of character and place emerges from the spare, narrow style, encouraging readers to forgive its limitations.

Engrossing, fiercely intelligent fiction redolent of another era.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1466303386

Page Count: 310

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2016

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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