We’re in McCarthy territory in much of Blake’s latest, but without the dazzling verbal pyrotechnics. That’s not to say that...


A rollicking, shaggy-doggish yarn of life in 19th and early-20th-century Mexico and the Wild West by prolific historical novelist Blake (The Pistoleer, 1995, etc.).

The author concentrates on telling a tale that on its face is simple, but that acquires depth as it moves across generations and national boundaries. Based on family history, Blake’s story begins in New England, its chief characters, at the start, the twin sons of an adventurous ship’s captain long lost at sea—or so their mother tells them. In fact, papa is a rolling stone, and so, it seems, are all the Wolfes, who just can’t stay put. Pop, we learn, also had an establishing trait: “He was not tall but carried himself as a tall man.” And so, across the bloodlines, do the other Wolfes, stiff-necked in their pride, always ready for a scrap—and, for that matter, a dalliance of the sort that Blake describes in language that would earn a film version an R rating (“breasts upraised and nipples puckered and lean belly sloping to a rubric delta”). Blake doesn’t mind a boudoir, but his real strengths come in describing manly mayhem during a time of revolution, as well as death, which he portrays with uncommon poetry (“He felt his entire body constrict and he doubled over, hugging himself, breathless, his cry stoppered in his throat”). In such matters, Cormac McCarthy’s tutelary spirit is all over this book, but there are soupçons of García Márquez as well (“in the final days of 1910, some years after finally accepting that she was past all possibility of conception and at last acquiescing to sexual intercourse with Amos Bentley...”).

We’re in McCarthy territory in much of Blake’s latest, but without the dazzling verbal pyrotechnics. That’s not to say that the book is derivative—merely that it keeps good company. Blake’s tale is involved and a touch too long, but full of wry humor and thoughtful writing.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-935955-03-0

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Cinco Puntos Press

Review Posted Online: March 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.


A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 10

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller


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

Did you like this book?