A rich gumbo of melodrama, romance and violence.

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ISLAND BENEATH THE SEA

Given recent events, the timing couldn’t be better for this historical fiction from Allende (The Sum of Our Days, 2008, etc.), which follows a slave/concubine from Haiti during the slave uprisings to New Orleans in time for the Louisiana Purchase. 

In 1770, Toulouse Valmorain arrives in Haiti from France to take over his dying father’s plantation. He buys the child Zarité to be his new Spanish wife Eugenia’s maidservant and has her trained by the mulatto courtesan Violette Boisier, whose charisma could carry a book on its own. Barely into puberty, Zarité is raped by Valmorain, who gives the resulting son to Violette and her French army officer husband to raise as their own. Eugenia bears Valmorain one legitimate heir before she descends into madness. Zarité, who is devoted to pathetic Eugenia until her early death, lovingly raises baby Maurice and runs the household with great competence. She also submits to sexual relations with Valmorain whenever he wants. When Zarité’s daughter is born, Valmorain assumes the child Rosette is his and allows her to remain in the household as Maurice’s playmate. Actually Rosette’s father is Gambo, a slave who has joined the rebels and become a lieutenant to the legendary Toussaint Louverture. When the rebels destroy Valmorain’s plantation, Gambo and Zarité help him escape. In return Valmorain promises to free Zarité, who stays with him, she thinks temporarily, for the children’s sake. Valmorain relocates to Louisiana, where Eugenia’s brother has purchased him land. His new wife, jealous and vindictive Hortense, makes life unbearable for both Zarité and Maurice, who is sent to school in Boston. While Valmorain, less a villain than a man of his time, finally grants Zarité the freedom he’s promised, more tragedies await strong-willed Rosette and sensitive, idealistic Maurice, whose love crosses more than racial boundaries. Still Zarité, along with the reader, finds solace in the cast of secondary characters, who also journey from Haiti to New Orleans.

A rich gumbo of melodrama, romance and violence.

Pub Date: April 27, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-06-198824-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2010

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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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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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