An engaging, slow-burning political mystery set in Manila.

Murillo's Million

Holm details the convoluted dealings of a Filipino politician in this debut novel.

Manuel Murillo has experienced a setback. “A congressman for nine years, with business interests in coconut oil, provincial bus lines, and property, Murillo was in his late sixties and no longer the strong man he had once been.” He has recently lost a senatorial election that should have been his. What’s more, he’s been contacted by a mysterious priest who seems to know a lot about Murillo’s past dealings. Meeting at a restaurant in Manila, the priest outlines a peculiar crisis at a shipping company in distant Norway, where a businessman has disappeared after transferring $1 million to the Filipino capital. The money is unaccounted for. Murillo knows that the funds—a kickback—had been meant to help him with his campaign. What he doesn’t know is why the priest keeps bringing up a teenage former mistress of Murillo’s from more than 20 years ago: a girl he put on a bus to Santa Rita but who apparently never arrived there. “Every day in every town in this country of ours, the rich and powerful take advantage of the less fortunate,” the enigmatic priest reminds Murillo. “I know only too well.” Holm unfolds his mystery through the meandering, detail-savoring narrative of the priest, while the reader sits, like Murillo, wondering where the tale is headed and what it all means. In the hands of a lesser storyteller, this rambling account might be frustrating, but Holm’s textured prose summons the energy and fatigue of the priest in such a way that it keeps the reader drifting forward with unsuspecting mirth. The true pleasure of the novel is the atmosphere, rendered in a language that evokes Manila’s chaotic fullness while still hinting at its ghosts: “The swell of people and vehicles rolled slowly southward, but the flood was smaller now because the commuters had started to trickle away into the dark landscape.” The intrigue is just serpentine enough to feel realistic, and while the conclusion is less than earth-shattering, the experience is more than satisfactory.

An engaging, slow-burning political mystery set in Manila.

Pub Date: Nov. 23, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5188-2714-3

Page Count: 214

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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