A highly satisfying mix of mystery and character portrait, revealing the constrained heart beneath the public carapace.

THE GREAT MISTAKE

An exceptional work of historical fiction about one of the key figures in the development of 19th-century New York City.

In November 1903, on Friday the 13th, Andrew Haswell Green was shot dead in front of his Park Avenue home. Largely forgotten now, he had been essential to the establishment of many of the city’s parks, museums, and bridges and to the linking of its five boroughs into Greater New York. As he did in High Dive (2016), Lee sets up two narratives: one following highlights of Green’s life up to the murder and one on the police investigation afterward. Born in 1820 into a Massachusetts farming family, young Green realizes that he doesn’t grip an ax the right way, that he has “no interest in girls.” At 14, he is seen almost kissing another boy. (Present-day readers may find the allusions to his sexuality euphemistic or otherwise indirect, but that is period appropriate and could mean the historical record lacks more-explicit references.) Shortly after that incident, Green is sent to New York to work in a general store, where future New York Gov. Samuel Tilden appears one day seeking pills for indigestion. They develop a lifelong friendship that will lead to Green’s many civic achievements. Meanwhile, a police inspector stumbles on a clue to the shooting after visiting a bordello whose madam is linked to the case. She provides one of the book’s most colorful sections (and its only significant female character), and she and the inspector dominate the novel’s lighter moments. There also are two very different strands of suspense: in the whodunit, which hinges on an accepted haven for straight male urges, and in the biography, with its question of how a man deals with feelings that don’t fit into the conventional narrative of the time.

A highly satisfying mix of mystery and character portrait, revealing the constrained heart beneath the public carapace.

Pub Date: June 15, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-525-65849-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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