Conan Doyle nicely and neatly updated.

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INAMORATA

Love, lust, lunacy, and drugs cloud the scientific analysis of psychic phenomena in ’20s Philadelphia.

Pleasantly nostalgic atmosphere and a personable young narrator are the attractions in screenwriter Gangemi’s more-than-competent first novel about a recent Harvard psychology graduate’s adventures in spiritual debunking. Upwardly mobile Martin Finch, whose inability to de-humanize his assigned cadavers has taken him out of med school and into psychology, lands a plum assignment when senior faculty scientist William McLaughlin hires him as an assistant. McLaughlin is part of Scientific American’s panel charged with disproving the claims of America’s best mediums to be in touch with the ghost world, and Martin quickly and happily proves he is the right man for the job as he promptly dispatches a couple of formidable charlatans. It appears that the magazine’s $5,000 reward for indisputable ties to the spirit world will remain safely in the vault until the team hears that beautiful Philadelphia socialite Mina Crawley is the real deal. Mrs. Crawley’s appeal is greatly heightened by her reluctance to travel to the magazine and by her lack of interest in the prize money. Injuries make it impossible for McLaughlin to travel, so Martin goes to Philadelphia alone, and when he is frozen out of his hotel room by a chiropodists’ convention, he lodges with the beautiful Mrs. Crawley and her rich, much older, gynecologist husband in their mansion near Rittenhouse Square. Séances ensue. Mina’s contact with the underworld is her late gay brother Walter, and he sounds awfully like the real thing. Even though Martin has locked and sealed all the doors and windows, someone other than the panelists and the Crawleys is in their darkened nursery as tables crash and pigeons appear out of nowhere. Despite falling quickly in love with the obviously disturbed Mina, Martin doggedly follows clues and digs into the very twisted Crawley history—until he Goes Too Far.

Conan Doyle nicely and neatly updated.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-670-03279-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...

LOVECRAFT COUNTRY

Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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