An uneven Tex-Mex mystery, though the hero has plenty to offer.

MURDER ON THE SKY RIDE

Former nonfiction writer Hewitt’s (Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower, 2011, etc.) grasp of Lone Star State peculiarities—Tex-Mex culture and politics; things only oilmen know—highlight this messy, 1970s murder mystery.

At first glance, it appears to be a case of drug-lord retribution: 32-year-old Texas Ranger Enrique “Gar” Garcia locked up Hispanic politician Reynaldo Diaz for marijuana smuggling and now, unbeknownst to him, he’s being tailed by Diaz’s revenge-bent brothers. But the plot shifts when, after posting bail, Diaz is offed by assassins posing as FBI agents. The murder is an over-the-top horror, with Diaz noosed to the cable system of an amusement park’s Sky Ride, the aerial cable cars that span the San Marcos River; the cable severs, jerking Diaz’s head from his body and sending it flying through the treetops. The Sky Ride cars plummet, killing or injuring many of the unlucky folks on board—which raises the possibility that one of them, not Diaz, might’ve been the intended target. Garcia’s ensuing investigation benefits from Hewitt’s knowledge of police work and Texas: He notes that the assassin was sweating profusely inside an over-air-conditioned local restaurant before the murder, then used a wood block made of ironwood, found only in South Texas and Mexico, and finally tied Diaz to the cable using an oil-field roughneck’s knot. He also gives Garcia authentic Texan heritage, from his great-great-grandfather’s role in the Battle of the Alamo to his brother Joe’s Chicano dialect. But politics can muddy the plot, too: It’s difficult to gauge whether the mystery is really about Diaz or about some other misdeed, and it’s baffling when the clues take shape as something much more pedestrian than what Hewitt had originally orchestrated. Secondary characters can feel stereotypical (for example, the members of one no-good trio are named Anglo, Hispanic and Black), and sudden shifts from one scene to another can be jarring, as can rampant grammatical mistakes.

An uneven Tex-Mex mystery, though the hero has plenty to offer.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481183178

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2013

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

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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