A strange, highly compelling tale about what happens when American privilege and insulation get turned inside out.

2 A.M. IN LITTLE AMERICA

From the undersung Kalfus, another tonally intricate triumph, this one about the bewilderment, alienation, and sheer strangeness of being a refugee.

Ron Patterson is an American who fled his native land as civil war and chaos descended. At the book's beginning he's a 20-something migrant in an unnamed country, eking out a subsistence as a repairman, having overstayed his visa, when he meets Marlise, another refugee. For a brief stretch before the unnamed country's politics turn fractious and they're banished and separated, she becomes a friend, companion, and temporary refuge, and he looks for her—or for her afterimage—everywhere he goes from then on. About 10 years later, having bounced from place to place while his homeland's civil conflict simmers on—and while xenophobic and tribal politics take root across the globe—Ron finds himself in one of the last nations that still welcomes castoffs from the once-great, once-smug power. He lives in a filthy banlieue he calls Little America, again in squalor, again with a steady job as a repairman of security-related electronics. The book is, as it keeps (nimbly) reminding us, a camera obscura: partly because indirect and tricky, bent, not-quite-trustable views are the nature of things; partly because of Ron's marginal and scorned status; partly because he's a loner; and partly due to an affliction that makes him see resemblances between people that may not be real (and on the flip side, differences that may not signify much), Ron can make out reality only indirectly, by way of mirrors and shades, and the image he ends up with is inverted, distorted, deeply mysterious. Then, when America's bitter political split starts to replicate itself even in the ghetto—and when he encounters a strangely familiar female schoolmate and is pressed into service as an informant by a detective—the picture gets murkier, scarier, and more peculiar yet. Kalfus has always worked by ingenious indirection; his A Disorder Peculiar to the Country (2006) is a 9/11 novel as seen through the comic lens of an imploding marriage. Here he does so again, and with similar success, creating a commentary on current American politics that never sets foot in America, takes place in a distant future, and takes pains (as its protagonist does) to avoid the overtly partisan.

A strange, highly compelling tale about what happens when American privilege and insulation get turned inside out.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-57131-144-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Milkweed

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

22 SECONDS

Lindsay Boxer faces a ton of trouble in the latest entry in Patterson and Paetro’s Women’s Murder Club series.

Senior crime reporter Cindy Thomas is writing a biography of Evan Burke, a notorious serial killer who sits in solitary confinement in San Quentin. She’s kidnapped by thugs wanting her to talk about her best friend, Lindsay Boxer, who’s an SFPD homicide detective and the story’s main character. San Francisco has a restrictive new gun law, and gun-totin’ folks everywhere have their boxer shorts in a twist. A national resistance movement has formed—Defenders of the Second—whose motto is “We will not comply.” They find it outrageous that the new law makes it illegal to own a gun that can kill 50 people with a single clip. Meanwhile, lots of bodies show up: A young girl disappears and is later found dead in a ditch, and ex-cops are found dead with their lips stapled shut and “You talk, you die” written on their foreheads. An inmate is found hanged in prison. And “a massive but unspecified load of military-style weaponry was en route from Mexico to the City by the Bay.” In a “frustrating, multipronged case,” there’s a harrowing shootout memorialized in a video showing “twenty-two of the scariest seconds” of Boxer’s life. She’s an appealing series hero with loving family and friends, but she may arrive at a crossroads where she has “to choose between my work and [my] baby girl.” The formulaic story has unmemorable writing, but it’s entertaining and well told. You probably won’t have to worry about the main characters, who have thus far survived 21 adventures. Except for the little girl, you can expect people to get what they deserve. It's relatively mild as crime novels go, but the women characters are serious, strong, and admirable.

Enjoyable storytelling by two masters of the craft.

Pub Date: May 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-316-49937-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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