Starts strong, but meanders to a vague finish.



The motives of a serial murderer operating during WWII come to light years later when a man uncovers his grandmother’s diary.

In the late ’90s, a man puts to rest his maternal grandmother after her long battle with Alzheimer’s. He never knew her when she wasn’t in the grips of mania, but he was drawn to her by their shared left-handedness. She left him only a smattering of news clippings and a personal diary, wherein she reveals herself to have “punished” seven individuals, killing them—often in overly contrived ways—for their crimes against women. Delving deeply into his grandmother’s dark memoir, the man discovers the story of a forgotten murderer called the “Leftist Killer,” who was active in Kitchener, Ontario, near the end of World War II. It was theorized that the murders were politically and racially motivated, but the true impetus behind his grandmother’s vigilantism is more complex and far-reaching: Apparently, she was urged on by reports of rapes in Nanjing, the German invasion of Russia and the first inklings of the depravity experienced during the Holocaust—seemingly all the violence women faced in patriarchal wars. Both sympathetic and appalled, the man must determine what responsibilities come with these revelations, and if it’s his place to let his grandmother’s true motivations be known. Though only a novella, Arbelaitz’s debut is similar in tone to early European literary thrillers—i.e., the compelling voyeurism of the grandmother’s diary recalls Stoker’s Dracula—or the works of Edgar Allen Poe. The short book pays proper tribute to these influences, stuffing much murder and mystery into a visceral, first-person narrative with a humanistic bent. Little period flourishes help to set the events of the diary firmly in 1940s Canada, with the narrative’s attention to detail as keen as the vigilante’s. The sections focused on the present-day narrator aren’t as sound, though, and the story struggles to connect his emotions with his grandmother’s proselytizing, often making it sound like he’s merely parroting her. Furthermore, the nuance of his grandmother’s worldview, including her railings against a “male war machine,” obviously doesn’t jive with her own violent methods, and there are some thorny narrative issues, both period-specific and not, that aren’t fully explored. Despite these shortcomings, however, Arbelaitz’s tale finds a unique way of tackling the connections between gender and the horrors of war, while still telling an entertaining, if fragmented, story.

Starts strong, but meanders to a vague finish.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-1475935714

Page Count: 80

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2013

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.


An exploration of the importance of clarity through calmness in an increasingly fast-paced world.

Austin-based speaker and strategist Holiday (Conspiracy: Peter Thiel, Hulk Hogan, Gawker, and the Anatomy of Intrigue, 2018, etc.) believes in downshifting one’s life and activities in order to fully grasp the wonder of stillness. He bolsters this theory with a wide array of perspectives—some based on ancient wisdom (one of the author’s specialties), others more modern—all with the intent to direct readers toward the essential importance of stillness and its “attainable path to enlightenment and excellence, greatness and happiness, performance as well as presence.” Readers will be encouraged by Holiday’s insistence that his methods are within anyone’s grasp. He acknowledges that this rare and coveted calm is already inside each of us, but it’s been worn down by the hustle of busy lives and distractions. Recognizing that this goal requires immense personal discipline, the author draws on the representational histories of John F. Kennedy, Buddha, Tiger Woods, Fred Rogers, Leonardo da Vinci, and many other creative thinkers and scholarly, scientific texts. These examples demonstrate how others have evolved past the noise of modern life and into the solitude of productive thought and cleansing tranquility. Holiday splits his accessible, empowering, and sporadically meandering narrative into a three-part “timeless trinity of mind, body, soul—the head, the heart, the human body.” He juxtaposes Stoic philosopher Seneca’s internal reflection and wisdom against Donald Trump’s egocentric existence, with much of his time spent “in his bathrobe, ranting about the news.” Holiday stresses that while contemporary life is filled with a dizzying variety of “competing priorities and beliefs,” the frenzy can be quelled and serenity maintained through a deliberative calming of the mind and body. The author shows how “stillness is what aims the arrow,” fostering focus, internal harmony, and the kind of holistic self-examination necessary for optimal contentment and mind-body centeredness. Throughout the narrative, he promotes that concept mindfully and convincingly.

A timely, vividly realized reminder to slow down and harness the restorative wonders of serenity.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-525-53858-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Portfolio

Review Posted Online: July 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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