THE GREAT MISTAKE

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

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 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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THE HEAVEN & EARTH GROCERY STORE

If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?

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McBride follows up his hit novel Deacon King Kong (2020) with another boisterous hymn to community, mercy, and karmic justice.

It's June 1972, and the Pennsylvania State Police have some questions concerning a skeleton found at the bottom of an old well in the ramshackle Chicken Hill section of Pottstown that’s been marked for redevelopment. But Hurricane Agnes intervenes by washing away the skeleton and all other physical evidence of a series of extraordinary events that began more than 40 years earlier, when Jewish and African American citizens shared lives, hopes, and heartbreak in that same neighborhood. At the literal and figurative heart of these events is Chona Ludlow, the forbearing, compassionate Jewish proprietor of the novel’s eponymous grocery store, whose instinctive kindness and fairness toward the Black families of Chicken Hill exceed even that of her husband, Moshe, who, with Chona’s encouragement, desegregates his theater to allow his Black neighbors to fully enjoy acts like Chick Webb’s swing orchestra. Many local White Christians frown upon the easygoing relationship between Jews and Blacks, especially Doc Roberts, Pottstown’s leading physician, who marches every year in the local Ku Klux Klan parade. The ties binding the Ludlows to their Black neighbors become even stronger over the years, but that bond is tested most stringently and perilously when Chona helps Nate Timblin, a taciturn Black janitor at Moshe’s theater and the unofficial leader of his community, conceal and protect a young orphan named Dodo who lost his hearing in an explosion. He isn’t at all “feeble-minded,” but the government wants to put him in an institution promising little care and much abuse. The interlocking destinies of these and other characters make for tense, absorbing drama and, at times, warm, humane comedy. McBride’s well-established skill with narrative tactics may sometimes spill toward the melodramatic here. But as in McBride’s previous works, you barely notice such relatively minor contrivances because of the depth of characterizations and the pitch-perfect dialogue of his Black and Jewish characters. It’s possible to draw a clear, straight line from McBride’s breakthrough memoir, The Color of Water (1996), to the themes of this latest work.

If it’s possible for America to have a poet laureate, why can’t James McBride be its storyteller-in-chief?

Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422946

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 9, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2023

THE LITTLE LIAR

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Truth and deception clash in this tale of the Holocaust.

Udo Graf is proud that the Wolf has assigned him the task of expelling all 50,000 Jews from Salonika, Greece. In that city, Nico Krispis is an 11-year-old Jewish boy whose blue eyes and blond hair deceive, but whose words do not. Those who know him know he has never told a lie in his life—“Never be the one to tell lies, Nico,” his grandfather teaches him. “God is always watching.” Udo and Nico meet, and Udo decides to exploit the child’s innocence. At the train station where Jews are being jammed into cattle cars bound for Auschwitz, Udo gives Nico a yellow star to wear and persuades him to whisper among the crowd, “I heard it from a German officer. They are sending us to Poland. We will have new homes. And jobs.” The lad doesn’t know any better, so he helps persuade reluctant Jews to board the train to hell. “You were a good little liar,” Udo later tells Nico, and delights in the prospect of breaking the boy’s spirit, which is more fun and a greater challenge than killing him outright. When Nico realizes the horrific nature of what he's done, his truth-telling days are over. He becomes an inveterate liar about everything. Narrating the story is the Angel of Truth, whom according to a parable God had cast out of heaven and onto earth, where Truth shattered into billions of pieces, each to lodge in a human heart. (Obviously, many hearts have been missed.) Truth skillfully weaves together the characters, including Nico; his brother, Sebastian; Sebastian’s wife, Fannie; and the “heartless deceiver” Udo. Events extend for decades beyond World War II, until everyone’s lives finally collide in dramatic fashion. As Truth readily acknowledges, his account is loaded with twists and turns, some fortuitous and others not. Will Nico Krispis ever seek redemption? And will he find it? Author Albom’s passion shows through on every page in this well-crafted novel.

A captivating allegory about evil, lies, and forgiveness.

Pub Date: Nov. 14, 2023

ISBN: 9780062406651

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2023

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