More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.

FOUR FREEDOMS

The American home front during World War II serves as metaphor for a fallen world seeking renewal in the latest from Crowley (Lord Byron’s Novel, 2005, etc.).

The action takes place in an aircraft factory in formerly oil-rich Ponca City, Okla.—and in the memories of several brilliantly realized characters. These include Dutch-American siblings Henry and Julius Van Damme, whose company has been entrusted with mass-producing America’s largest warplane; disabled plant worker Prosper Olander, whose roots lie in an unidentified northern city and a confused family history; several splendid women with whom Prosper forges close relationships; and idealistic Pancho Notzing, a self-styled philosopher who preaches a relativistic gospel embracing imperfection and diversity. In a tricky narrative that weaves in and out of the novel’s present (1942–5) and lavishly detailed flashbacks to the characters’ earlier lives, Crowley creates a fascinating microcosm: an insular, though globally inspired and involved alternative world that’s as radical an invention as the bifurcated world of his classic fantasy Little, Big (1984). The theme of an embattled idyllic America suddenly vulnerable to threats to the “four freedoms”(of speech and worship, from want and fear) enumerated in FDR’s third State of the Union address, is spelled out in the stories of Prosper’s sufferings growing up with a curved spine; his first lover Vi Harbison’s exuberant experiences as a softball pitcher; her successor Connie Wrobleski’s unhappy marriage and sexual renewal; and, just before a climactic occurrence wipes Ponca City’s slate clean, the intellectual road taken by Pancho en route to a fructifying vision of a “Harmonious City” that incarnates the ideal of full equality for all. Crowley further enriches his text with complex allusions to classical mythology and Shakespearean drama; Prosper evokes both The Tempest’s hero-sage and the wounded Fisher King whose sacrifice redeems a stricken Waste Land.

More rich, satisfying food for thought from one of America’s most imaginative and accomplished novelists.

Pub Date: June 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-06-123150-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2009

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Despite an awkward transition or two and a bit of padding (there’s a recipe for Welsh rarebit), the Bell series hits the...

THE CUTTHROAT

It’s No. 10 in the Cussler and Scott (The Gangster, 2016, etc.) series chronicling the adventures of rich man–sleuth Isaac Bell and the Van Dorn Detective Agency as the 20th century dawns.

It’s 1911, and Bell’s promised a Connecticut millionaire he’ll find his daughter, a young woman who left the lap of luxury and went missing among the wanna-be actors, money-grubbing producers, and crooked agents of New York City’s theater district. Bell finds her, but too late. The girl’s been murdered. Bell is distraught, angry, and now feels compelled to catch her killer. Soon Van Dorn’s research group unearths other murders with similar modus operandi—laid open with a large knife, up close and personal—from as far away as Jack the Ripper’s London to New York and to cities across the country as far as Los Angeles. Tracing the elusive killer, Bell forms a "Cutthroat Squad," a double-handful of tougher-than-nails Van Dorn detectives. Bell and squad soon figure out the murders are occurring wherever a touring theater group is presenting the play Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. The narrative makes stopovers at the Savile Club in Mayfair and NYC’s Knickerbocker Hotel, and as with nearly every Cussler tome, contemporary gadgetry—a Morkrum Printing Telegraph, an Atlantic 4-4-2 Deaver-built locomotive—adds authenticity to the period setting. It’s an action-packed, fast-moving, but not especially gory story, with pauses for Bell to use his fists or .45 or flaunt his wealth. Famous folk like Caruso make cameos, but Bell, an engrossing-enough meld of Dudley Do-Right and James Bond, and his cohort of detectives get their man.

Despite an awkward transition or two and a bit of padding (there’s a recipe for Welsh rarebit), the Bell series hits the right note for those who like crime fiction with a unique setting.

Pub Date: March 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-399-57560-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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