An often witty whodunit with heartfelt characters.

DUCK DUCK GATOR

A Brooklyn editor finds himself immersed in the lives of reality TV stars in this comic thriller.

Tony Battaglia makes his living editing reality TV shows. But his best friend and co-worker, Murph, scores him a gig in Louisiana. This time, it’s in front of the cameras for Gator Guys, a series whose star, “Lonnie Junior” Lalonde, was recently in a fatal accident. The editor has just undergone a much-needed heart transplant and, Murph informs him, Lonnie Junior’s heart is now in Tony. In Louisiana, Tony introduces himself as the show’s new leading guy to Lonnie Junior’s family; his girlfriend, Chelsea Granger; and his friend and co-star Mitch “Fudgeround” Arcenaux. And though Tony’s new heart is meant to stay secret until later, he feels obligated to tell each one about it. But there’s even more shocking news: Upon reviewing footage from the morning of Lonnie Junior’s death, Tony sees an unknown figure and consequently suspects murder. Early evidence suggests the killer is Travis Richardson, who stars in a rival show, Mallard Men, with his devoutly religious family. He certainly has a motive, as his girlfriend, Brit Borders, had once been Lonnie Junior’s lover. But Tony and Fudgeround seem convinced that the murderer is someone else and keep close eyes on the Richardsons as well as Brit. Meanwhile, the killer is trying to avoid detection, which may entail pinning the homicide on another person—and committing an additional murder or two in the process.

Wheaton’s tale frequently relies on humor. Tony, for example, gets a lesson from Lonnie Senior on boating in the swamp, as he knows nothing about hunting gators. Tony’s paranoia, which leads him to believe Lonnie Senior has plans to kill him and dump his body in the swamp, is quite funny, especially once the protagonist is on the verge of hyperventilating. There are nevertheless sincere moments that create likable characters. Tony is respectful with Lonnie Junior’s friends and family since he’s worried how they’ll react to hearing about the transplant. He also bonds with Lonnie Senior, Chelsea, and Fudgeround in various ways. Even Lonnie Senior’s dog, Cocoa, warms up to Tony. Other characters are despicable, though this does make it harder to pinpoint the culprit. While the killer’s identity is more or less revealed well before the end, it’s still a treat to watch Tony and Fudgeround investigate, as they’re tenacious despite their apparent lack of experience as sleuths. Comedy again plays a part, namely an argument between the two and Chelsea, who sees no reason to dismiss the evidence against Travis, that’s vigorous and entertaining. The author writes in a no-nonsense style which is typically droll, such as the revelation that someone smells “like gym socks and body odor.” But these blunt descriptions also ignite the senses: “It wasn’t the suffocating heat and humidity Tony’d experienced when he first arrived in Louisiana, but a different breed of damp. Louisiana needed a taxonomy of wet like Eskimos had for snow.”

An often witty whodunit with heartfelt characters.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 221

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2020

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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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