If Dawes had followed the conventions of the historical novel, it might have made his book more accessible, but it should be...

BIVOUAC

An examination of grief and politics in a deftly written novel set in 1980s Jamaica.

Periodically throughout this slim novel, George Ferron Morgan recalls with jaded wit the indignities of being a ghost editorial writer at a second-rate newspaper, working with hacks. The political climate which once leaned left has taken a hard right, instilling a general complacency among the politically disengaged and fueling George’s paranoia as he wonders what punishment will be meted out for his earlier well-known radical activism. Overshadowing his cynicism is his undignified and suspicious death. As if that weren’t enough, his son, Ferron, tortured by grief, annoyance, or his chronic dyspepsia—it’s hard to tell which—is given the task of transporting his father’s body home in the back seat of his Volvo. George’s voice, in sections called "Unpublished notes of George Ferron Morgan," appears between the Ferron-driven chapters in which Ferron, his family, and his father’s friends mourn George and debate the circumstances of his death. The book gets bogged down with Ferron’s dalliances with a trio of women inexplicably willing to put up with his sudden disappearances, dishonesty, and guilt. While the backdrop of Jamaica’s political climate is presumably meant to lend breadth, it is uncomfortably compact, making the novel read like an overlong short story or an underdeveloped historical novel. What rescues the book is Dawes’ poetic ear, as when George recalls his days at Jamaica College with sensory acuity: "I remember...the sense of cold water, which was partly smell and partly touch…the smell of games: linseed oil on cricket bats and the chalky smell of composition balls and then later the smell of leather balls.” A bold surprise occurs late in the book as it switches from prose to a near play-script format, when Ferron returns to an old family home, imagining an encounter with his old man as he sinks into the full spectrum of grief and contemplates ancestral lives passed.

If Dawes had followed the conventions of the historical novel, it might have made his book more accessible, but it should be read if only to savor the author's astonishing prose.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61775-710-5

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Akashic

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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