America's space program, from WW II roots to the 1980s, is the subject of Michener's new mega-faction—so those readers who relished the dynasty/historical-romance aspects of his multi-century epics (Chesapeake, The Covenant, etc.) are likely to be disappointed by the smaller scope and quieter action here. Others, however, may appreciate the close-up focus—the same handful of central characters for 640 pp.—or the relatively in-depth treatment of the science/issues involved. And those put off by Tom Wolfe's jivey, semi-hostile approach in The Right Stuff will certainly prefer Michener's more positive (though not uncritical) view of the astronaut program. In 1944 US engineer Stanley Mott is the man responsible for locating and secretly rescuing Germany's top rocket scientists: the real-life von Braun (a background figure here) as well as the fictional Dieter Kolff, who manages to sneak out of Germany with formulas for long-range rocketry. So Mott, with wife Rachel, oversees the research program once the Germans are resettled in Alabama. And, meanwhile, we also meet future astronaut John Pope, a brainy, "straight arrow" Navy test pilot (with raunchy Korea buddy, Marine Randy Claggett) whose lawyer-wife Penny is a vital aide to stolid Sen. Norman Grant, a WW II hero on the Senate's space committee. In the early '50s, however, Mott is removed from the program (he switches to the embryonic NASA, studies celestial mechanics and ablation); the three major military branches feud about space-program control; and Ike's Defense Secretary virtually calls off all rocketry plans. Then . . . Sputnik—and everything changes. Ike revises his tune. After debate, space-program control is given to NASA. Mott and Kolff violently argue about goals and methods. (Manned vs. unmanned flights? Flashy moon-shots vs. wide exploration? Earth-orbit rendezvous vs. lunar?) And John and Randy are in one of the first astronaut batches: their Gemini mission, with flight-walks, is detailed; career-woman Penny is harassed for not conforming to the chosen astronaut PR-style; the raunchy goings-on at Cocoa Beach are touched on (a beautiful muckraking Korean journalist sleeps around); and, on a fictional Apollo 18 mission to the moon's "dark side," Randy and another pilot die from sun radiation. In an apparent attempt to provide relief from the dense, unvaried material here, Michener supplies a few limp subplots—e.g., Mott's worry over his sons (one homosexual, one drug-dealer). And one subplot—the doings of a con-man UFO guru who switches to anti-Darwinism in the '80s—becomes increasingly important, with a wind-up debate on Faith vs. Science. Finally, however, this is Michener's customary education-in-an-epic package: less romantic/exotic than usual, typically stiff in dialogue and narration, inferior to many non-fiction sources of popularized astro-science—yet sure to draw a vast Big-Book readership.

Pub Date: Oct. 12, 1982

ISBN: 0449203794

Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1982

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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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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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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