WHAT COMES AFTER

A quiet portrayal of troubled lives.

Making an appealing debut, Tompkins spins a tender tale of wounded souls anguished by loss and grief, yearning for love and forgiveness. Port Furlong, a small coastal town in Washington state, has been shaken by a tragedy: popular teenager Daniel Balch was murdered by his best friend, Jonah. Jonah is dead, too, killing himself after leaving a confession. The survivors are bowed by sorrow: Daniel’s father, Isaac, a divorced high school biology teacher, strains to find consolation in his faith as a Quaker. Jonah’s mother, Lorrie, a widow left to raise her young daughter while eking out a living as a nursing assistant, is overwhelmed with shame and guilt. Into their lives—and into Isaac’s home—comes Evangeline, a 16-year-old fending for herself after her mother, a drug addict and prostitute, abandoned her. Sexually abused by her mother’s boyfriend when she was a young teenager, she is fearful, distrustful—and now pregnant. “The pattern of her life had been set,” she reflects, “horrors followed by small reprieves, glimmers of possibility, then wham, everything back to shit." Mysteries lie at the heart of the story: Why did Jonah murder Daniel? How was Evangeline involved with the two boys? Who is her baby’s father? But the novel is haunted by deeper mysteries, as well—as Isaac puts it, “the mystery of one person reaching toward another.” Isaac fears he never really knew Daniel, a “ridiculously handsome boy who lived life assuming he’d be well received”; but Daniel could be a bully, and Isaac struggles to understand why he never intervened to curb his son’s arrogant behavior. Lorrie, too, wonders how well she knew Jonah, how well she understood the depths of his loneliness and rage. Like Anne Tyler and Marilynne Robinson, who explore similar territories of the heart, Tompkins sensitively portrays her characters’ pain, isolation, and hard path to redemption.

A graceful debut.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08599-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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