HOUSE OF SMOKE

A gritty and gripping sins-of-the-fathers tale from Freedman (Against the Wind, 1991, etc.), who this time puts a couple of memorably gutsy ladies center stage. Having resigned from the Oakland PD after being involved in a hostage crisis that left three people dead, Kate Blanchard divorces her brutally abusive husband (a fellow cop) and moves to Santa Barbara in search of a fresh start. With wise counsel from a retired investigator whose practice she takes over, the 40ish Kate sets up shop as a p.i. Retained by wealthy young Laura Sparks to probe the apparent suicide of Frank Bascombe, who died in the local jail while awaiting arraignment on drug charges, the fledgling sleuth soon learns she may be out of her depth. In addition to being Laura's lover, Bascombe was foreman at the vast ranch owned by the Sparks family, and the old-money clan wants to put a quick lid on his death for fear it could sully their good name. Particularly keen on keeping Kate at bay is Miranda Sparks, Laura's mother. A calculating sexual predator who takes her pleasures where she finds them (thanks to the impotence of a beloved but feckless husband), Miranda has been entrusted by matriarch Dorothy with the stewardship of the family's presumably substantial holdings. But undaunted by pointed warnings and a severe beating, Kate keeps digging. She finally discovers that Miranda is, literally, in bed with the representative of an international oil company that wants to slant-drill into the scenic channel—anathema in environmentally correct Santa Barbara. Kate also identifies other players with sinister agendas of their own. The case she would not drop eventually resolves itself in a shocking, violent, and cathartic climax. Plucky Kate and lusty Miranda are irresistible creations in their absorbing if occasionally melodramatic duel, set in an agreeably complex coastal eden: an immensely entertaining read. (Literary Guild featured alternate)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-670-85347-X

Page Count: 410

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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