A remarkable first novel that reads like the work of a seasoned pro.

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THE STANDARDIZATION OF DEMORALIZATION PROCEDURES

In 1989, an older Stasi operative in East Berlin ponders the disappearance of a young woman and recalls a torture victim in this fine debut.

Bernd Zeiger boosted his early career with the East German secret service in the 1960s by writing a manual on how to demoralize those suspected of veering from the party line. Now he is 60 and has been shunted aside to minor surveillance duties. His days usually proceed according to a regular schedule and predictable meals (the German word Zeiger can refer to the hand of a clock). But during much of the novel’s single day he’s preoccupied with Lara, a young waitress at his local cafe who vanished a month ago, and a physicist named Johannes Held, whom Stasi operatives tortured years earlier after he returned from a fellowship to Arizona. Hofmann, who was born in the U.S. but grew up in Germany, writes in assured prose of carefully chosen details that mark the best period fiction. It can be a while before it’s clear that this is not a Cold War spy thriller. As Zeiger’s day proceeds, interrupted by long flashbacks, Hofmann conjures up dark comedy in an understated, quirky satire of the Stasi’s bureaucracy and cruelty and the paranoia that permeated East Germany. It’s more smiles than George Smileys, but the author also finds tension in mysteries other than a lady vanishing: Why do boys go missing in the Arizona desert? Were the Americans working on teleportation? Why is his blind, womanizing neighbor visiting the same Meissen shop as Zeiger when he buys a porcelain dog for Lara? At the end of this day in 1989, Zeiger and his ilk are left to contemplate the biggest disappearance ever in a city with a wall built to prevent departures.

A remarkable first novel that reads like the work of a seasoned pro.

Pub Date: Aug. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-31642-645-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

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ANXIOUS PEOPLE

Eight people become unlikely friends during a hostage situation created by an inept bank robber.

In a town in Sweden, a desperate parent turns to bank robbery to help pay the rent. Unfortunately, the target turns out to be a cashless bank, which means that no robbery can take place. In an attempt to flee the police, the would-be perpetrator runs into a nearby apartment building and interrupts an open house, causing the would-be buyers to assume they're being held hostage. After the situation has ended with an absent bank robber and blood on the carpet, a father-and-son police pair work through maddening interviews with the witnesses: the ridiculous realtor; an older couple who renovates and sells apartments in an effort to stay busy; a bickering young couple expecting their first child; a well-off woman interested only in the view from the balcony of a significant bridge in her life; an elderly woman missing her husband as New Year’s Eve approaches; and, absurdly, an actor dressed as a rabbit hired to disrupt the showing and drive down the apartment price. Backman’s latest novel focuses on how a shared event can change the course of multiple people’s lives even in times of deep and ongoing anxiousness. The observer/narrator is winding and given to tangents and, in early moments, might distract a bit too much from the strongly drawn characters. But the story gains energy and sureness as it develops, resulting in moments of insight and connection between its numerous amiable characters.

A story with both comedy and heartbreak sure to please Backman fans.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5011-6083-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2020

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