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SHRINES OF GAIETY

Already one of the best writers working, Atkinson just gets better and better.

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The author of Big Sky (2019) and Transcription (2018) takes readers on a tour of London’s post–World War I demimonde.

It’s 1926. Nellie Coker presides over an empire of five nightclubs catering to a diverse clientele and a brood of six children of various talents and aptitudes. Just released from prison, she finds herself beset on all sides. Would-be usurpers have infiltrated her inner circle. DCI John Frobisher is determined to bring her to justice. And Gwendolen Kelling—currently on leave from her job as a librarian in York, lately a nurse serving in the Great War—has just emerged as something of a wild card. While the story unfolds over a period of weeks and is almost entirely contained to London, it sprawls across social classes and gives voice to a glorious miscellany of characters. The tone is set by Nellie, a woman who had the will and the smarts to create herself, and two veterans of the trenches—Gwendolen and Nellie’s son Niven, who survived deployment to the Somme. These three are hard to shock and difficult to take unawares, and they have all endured experiences that make them want to live. Like all of Atkinson’s novels, her latest defies easy categorization. It’s historical fiction, but there’s a sense of knowingness that feels contemporary, and if this irony may feel anachronistic, it also feels spiritually correct. Intertwined mysteries drive the plot, but this is not a mystery in any conventional sense. The adjective Dickensian feels too clichéd to be meaningful, but Atkinson does excel at creating a big, bustling universe fully inhabited by vivid characters. And, like Dickens, Atkinson is obviously fond of her characters—even the ones who do horrible things. Sometimes this means that she lets us know the fate of a character with a walk-on part. Sometimes her care manifests in giving a character the sort of perfect ending that seldom exists outside of Greek tragedy or screwball comedy. And, in one exquisite moment, the author shows her love by releasing characters from the confines of the narrative altogether—a choice she seems to offer as a gift to both her creations and her readers.

Already one of the best writers working, Atkinson just gets better and better.

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54797-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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THE WOMEN

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

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A young woman’s experience as a nurse in Vietnam casts a deep shadow over her life.

When we learn that the farewell party in the opening scene is for Frances “Frankie” McGrath’s older brother—“a golden boy, a wild child who could make the hardest heart soften”—who is leaving to serve in Vietnam in 1966, we feel pretty certain that poor Finley McGrath is marked for death. Still, it’s a surprise when the fateful doorbell rings less than 20 pages later. His death inspires his sister to enlist as an Army nurse, and this turn of events is just the beginning of a roller coaster of a plot that’s impressive and engrossing if at times a bit formulaic. Hannah renders the experiences of the young women who served in Vietnam in all-encompassing detail. The first half of the book, set in gore-drenched hospital wards, mildewed dorm rooms, and boozy officers’ clubs, is an exciting read, tracking the transformation of virginal, uptight Frankie into a crack surgical nurse and woman of the world. Her tensely platonic romance with a married surgeon ends when his broken, unbreathing body is airlifted out by helicopter; she throws her pent-up passion into a wild affair with a soldier who happens to be her dead brother’s best friend. In the second part of the book, after the war, Frankie seems to experience every possible bad break. A drawback of the story is that none of the secondary characters in her life are fully three-dimensional: Her dismissive, chauvinistic father and tight-lipped, pill-popping mother, her fellow nurses, and her various love interests are more plot devices than people. You’ll wish you could have gone to Vegas and placed a bet on the ending—while it’s against all the odds, you’ll see it coming from a mile away.

A dramatic, vividly detailed reconstruction of a little-known aspect of the Vietnam War.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2024

ISBN: 9781250178633

Page Count: 480

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2023

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THE GOD OF THE WOODS

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Many years after her older brother, Bear, went missing, Barbara Van Laar vanishes from the same sleepaway camp he did, leading to dark, bitter truths about her wealthy family.

One morning in 1975 at Camp Emerson—an Adirondacks summer camp owned by her family—it's discovered that 13-year-old Barbara isn't in her bed. A problem case whose unhappily married parents disdain her goth appearance and "stormy" temperament, Barbara is secretly known by one bunkmate to have slipped out every night after bedtime. But no one has a clue where's she permanently disappeared to, firing speculation that she was taken by a local serial killer known as Slitter. As Jacob Sluiter, he was convicted of 11 murders in the 1960s and recently broke out of prison. He's the one, people say, who should have been prosecuted for Bear's abduction, not a gardener who was framed. Leave it to the young and unproven assistant investigator, Judy Luptack, to press forward in uncovering the truth, unswayed by her bullying father and male colleagues who question whether women are "cut out for this work." An unsavory group portrait of the Van Laars emerges in which the children's father cruelly abuses their submissive mother, who is so traumatized by the loss of Bear—and the possible role she played in it—that she has no love left for her daughter. Picking up on the themes of families in search of themselves she explored in Long Bright River (2020), Moore draws sympathy to characters who have been subjected to spousal, parental, psychological, and physical abuse. As rich in background detail and secondary mysteries as it is, this ever-expansive, intricate, emotionally engaging novel never seems overplotted. Every piece falls skillfully into place and every character, major and minor, leaves an imprint.

"Don't go into the woods" takes on unsettling new meaning in Moore's blend of domestic drama and crime novel.

Pub Date: July 2, 2024

ISBN: 9780593418918

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2024

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