BLUE LIGHTNING

Eighteen stories in the mystery genre, edited by British poet, cultural historian, and mystery writer Harvey (Easy Meat, 1996, etc.), explore the meaning of music in offbeat lives. Gritty nightclub dressing rooms, late-night disc jockeys talking to themselves, pop lyrics ironically contrasted with grim realities, romantic sax men dreaming through their horns—it’s all here, from writers as established as Walter Mosley (whose “Blue Lightning” offers a brief glimpse of the dignified ex-con musical tootler Socrates Fortlow finding redemption) and as unheralded as singer/novelist Rosanne Cash, who imagines a sentimental summit between her father, Johnny Cash, and an ineptly disguised Beatle in “John Lennon in the American South.” Most contributors, like Harvey himself—whose “Cool Blues” sets his hero Inspector Charlie Resnick on the trail of a serial robber who takes the names of Duke Ellington’s band members as his aliases—lack superstar dazzle but are reasonably well known. Jeffery Deaver’s “Nocturne” is a snappy Manhattan police procedural about a stolen Stradivarius and an unconventional, musically-inspired cop’s bighearted sense of justice; Gary Phillips” more standard whodunit shows what fools rap musicians can be as Ivan Monk, his series detective, unmasks a “Stone Cold Killah.” Most stories dwell on the peaks and pits of musical types who—ll never hog the spotlight: Ira Rankin, in his pretentious second-person confessional “Glimmer,” tells of a dissolute playwright who happened to be in the right place at the right time when the Rolling Stones needed somebody to sing “ooh, ooh.” Music also sounds rites of passage, bringing on a mental breakdown in Kirsty Gunn’s “Aja” and a heart attack for an aging blues singer in Charlotte Carter’s “A Flower is a Lovesome Thing.” Sour notes: in an appendix the writers plug their works, prattle on about how much they love music, and list the tunes they played while they were writing the stories.

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 1-871033-43-8

Page Count: 422

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1999

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No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

FLESH AND BLOOD

Happy birthday, Dr. Kay Scarpetta. But no Florida vacation for you and your husband, FBI profiler Benton Wesley—not because President Barack Obama is visiting Cambridge, but because a deranged sniper has come to town.

Shortly after everyone’s favorite forensic pathologist (Dust, 2013, etc.) receives a sinister email from a correspondent dubbed Copperhead, she goes outside to find seven pennies—all polished, all turned heads-up, all dated 1981—on her garden wall. Clearly there’s trouble afoot, though she’s not sure what form it will take until five minutes later, when a call from her old friend and former employee Pete Marino, now a detective with the Cambridge Police, summons her to the scene of a shooting. Jamal Nari was a high school music teacher who became a minor celebrity when his name was mistakenly placed on a terrorist watch list; he claimed government persecution, and he ended up having a beer with the president. Now he’s in the news for quite a different reason. Bizarrely, the first tweets announcing his death seem to have preceded it by 45 minutes. And Leo Gantz, a student at Nari’s school, has confessed to his murder, even though he couldn’t possibly have done it. But these complications are only the prelude to a banquet of homicide past and present, as Scarpetta and Marino realize when they link Nari’s murder to a series of killings in New Jersey. For a while, the peripheral presence of the president makes you wonder if this will be the case that finally takes the primary focus off the investigator’s private life. But most of the characters are members of Scarpetta’s entourage, the main conflicts involve infighting among the regulars, and the killer turns out to be a familiar nemesis Scarpetta thought she’d left for dead several installments back. As if.

No wonder Scarpetta asks, “When did my workplace become such a soap opera?” Answer: at least 10 years ago.

Pub Date: Nov. 11, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-06-232534-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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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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