Despite its length, an engrossing tale of mystery and magic.

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EYE OF THE MOON

In this debut murder mystery, a pair of friends searches for clues in the darkest recesses of the occult.

Johnny and Percy grew up as close as brothers. So when Johnny asks Percy to accompany him to his family’s luxurious estate in Rhinebeck, New York, he agrees despite some reservations. While rummaging about in the cellar, they stumble upon some personal effects that belonged to Johnny’s deceased aunt, Alice, a larger-than-life figure who died under mysterious circumstances. In response to their curiosity, Stanley, the family’s butler and once Alice’s confidant, enigmatically offers them a contract of sorts: he’ll give them Alice’s diary and tell them everything he knows about her life in exchange for a future favor left currently undetermined. In the spirit of adventure, they both accept, and Stanley regales them with a lurid tale of Alice’s fraught marriage to Lord Bromley, a sinister man rumored to have dabbled in the supernatural. He is an abusive husband—his malignancy is memorably described by Obolensky—and Alice finally conspires to escape marriage to him. The cost of her victory, she believes, is a terrible curse delivered to her by Bromley. She devotes the remainder of her days searching for a reprieve from her dark punishment, indefatigably perusing ancient artifacts and books to that purpose. Johnny and Percy want to discover if her death was the result of murder and follow her lead in summoning demons to divine the truth. Meanwhile, Percy becomes infatuated with Brunhilde von Hofmanstal, the beautiful daughter of a baron and his wife, all visiting Rhinebeck. Though his feelings for her are powerful, he also suspects her interest in him is fueled more by ulterior than romantic motives. Obolensky conjures a remarkably imaginative tale, seamlessly juxtaposing the quotidian and the magical in a way that renders the latter mesmerizingly plausible. Johnny and Percy’s headlong march into the occult world that may have destroyed Alice is shockingly inadvisable and yet seems to make sense all the same. In addition, the author has a morbid gift for the description of human turpitude that simultaneously inspires both revulsion and awe. But his writing, in particular the dialogue, is oddly genteel and strikes a decorous tone that is more suitable to the 1870s than the 1970s, the actual setting of the story. Exchanges between characters include phrases like “pray tell” and “indeedy,” which seem like the author’s approximations of the communicative ticks of the well-heeled. Nevertheless, Alice’s complex character powerfully emerges as the plot’s tonal center, a bewitching amalgam of moral strength, intellectual vitality, and a lust for life. Likewise, Stanley is far more than meets the eye, and Obolensky skillfully portrays him with literary restraint, leaving the reader to deliciously wonder if he’s truly a friend or a secret foe. The principal failing of the novel is its sprawling length (more than 500 pages). The plot unfurls at a sleepy pace, and the author promiscuously inserts narrative detours. Still, the story as a whole remains a transfixing one, ingeniously constructed.

Despite its length, an engrossing tale of mystery and magic.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Smith-Obolensky Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

ALL ADULTS HERE

When Astrid Strick witnesses a school bus run over a longtime acquaintance of hers—Barbara Baker, a woman she doesn't like very much—it's only the beginning of the shake-ups to come in her life and the lives of those she loves.

Astrid has been tootling along contentedly in the Hudson Valley town of Clapham, New York, a 68-year-old widow with three grown children. After many years of singlehood since her husband died, she's been quietly seeing Birdie Gonzalez, her hairdresser, for the past two years, and after Barbara's death she determines to tell her children about the relationship: "There was no time to waste, not in this life. There were always more school buses." Elliot, her oldest, who's in real estate, lives in Clapham with his wife, Wendy, who's Chinese American, and their twins toddlers, Aidan and Zachary, who are "such hellions that only a fool would willingly ask for more." Astrid's daughter, Porter, owns a nearby farm producing artisanal goat cheese and has just gotten pregnant through a sperm bank while having an affair with her married high school boyfriend. Nicky, the youngest Strick, is disconcertingly famous for having appeared in an era-defining movie when he was younger and now lives in Brooklyn with his French wife, Juliette, and their daughter, Cecelia, who's being shipped up to live with Astrid for a while after her friend got mixed up with a pedophile she met online. As always, Straub (Modern Lovers, 2016, etc.) draws her characters warmly, making them appealing in their self-centeredness and generosity, their insecurity and hope. The cast is realistically diverse, though in most ways it's fairly superficial; the fact that Birdie is Latina or Porter's obstetrician is African American doesn't have much impact on the story or their characters. Cecelia's new friend, August, wants to make the transition to Robin; that storyline gets more attention, with the two middle schoolers supporting each other through challenging times. The Stricks worry about work, money, sex, and gossip; Straub has a sharp eye for her characters' foibles and the details of their liberal, upper-middle-class milieu.

With humor and insight, Straub creates a family worth rooting for.

Pub Date: May 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-59463-469-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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