A deliciously creepy book.

REALITY AND OTHER STORIES

In the spirit—a word used advisedly—of M.R. James, British novelist Lanchester delivers a splendidly eerie suite of stories.

The opening story in Lanchester’s collection, “Signal,” sets the tone nicely. A college friend of the narrator’s, who has grown unimaginably wealthy (“The driveway of Michael’s big house was so long that even after we got there it took a while to get there”), can buy everything he wants except a decent Wi-Fi signal. Enter the spectral image of a tall man in a household full of short ones—one, a Bolivian, is a comparative giant back home among “the second-shortest people in the world,” but barely qualifies here—who, it appears, is still trying to get a reliable connection from the spirit world. In “Coffin Liquor,” whose title comes, Lanchester’s narrator explains, from “the liquefaction of improperly preserved corpses,” modern vampirism meets the still more dreadful prospect of an academic conference. Wi-Fi figures into it, and so, in a Groundhog Day sort of trope, does Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, all culminating in a psychiatrist’s weary assessment of the protagonist as someone suffering a psychosis with “the most florid manifestations.” One character is imprisoned in a dungeon straight out of Poe, another philosophically explores the question of whether we’re not ambulatory critters but instead “a brain in a vat” before being interrupted by a trope from the book of Revelation, still another snipes that the one book he can’t stand teaching is Lord of the Flies, since “glasses with prescriptions for short-sight cannot be used to start a fire in the manner that Piggy’s spectacles are.” It wouldn’t be a set of supernatural stories without at least one in which a painting comes to life, though, true to form, Lanchester brings in a selfie stick as part of the malevolent furnishings, to say nothing of a swarm of icky maggots.

A deliciously creepy book.

Pub Date: March 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-393-54091-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 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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