The villains have little impact in this tale, but its white-collar plot is continually fascinating.

The Five Lions of the Volta

A STORY OF ROMANCE, GREED, AND DANGER IN AFRICA

A scientist’s attempt to secure funding to harvest Ghana’s African plants for medicinal value becomes not-so-simple when Russian gun smugglers and Muslim terrorists demand a cut in Shields’ (Double Dealing, 2012) thriller.

Bioengineer Allan Sinclair is excited to tell his girlfriend, Lisa Sharpe, about a West African nutmeg plant, Kombo, that may offer a breakthrough for treating Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases. Lisa relays this information to her venture-capital firm’s boss, Scott Sherman, whose mother has Alzheimer’s. He finds out that his former Cornell University colleague, professor John Stamen, has the patent on Kombo, so Scott gets funding from pharmaceutical company Wyzer and travels to Ghana with John. They’re promptly kidnapped by Richard Akromah, a rebel whose armed men are running protection rackets on illegal mining operations. Lisa and Scott’s best friend, journalist Mark Halper, helps with the ransom payment, but Richard, seeking amnesty from a 50-year-old murder, ultimately becomes their partner, helping to collect Kombo for a profit. Unfortunately, Richard has shady associates in his past. One is gun smuggler Sergei Andreyavich, who set up Richard’s bank account 15 years before and isn’t happy about recent transactions; he assumes correctly that Richard’s now in business with someone in the United States. He and his Russian pals are willing to align themselves with terrorists in order to get the money they feel Richard owes them. Although this book contains thriller components, such as the ever present Russian threat, its high-speed resolutions curtail the suspense; a hostage situation, for example, is resolved in the course of a relatively short scene. Nevertheless, Shields excels at the surprisingly riveting financial aspects; Richard may be a criminal, but Scott is equally ruthless in setting up shop with John, despite what it does to Lisa’s relationship with Allan. Politically, the story stays middle-of-the-road. It’s indisputable that Ghana has been victimized (or “raped,” as a local doctor puts it) by foreign companies for its natural resources, but big money is also shown to be a necessity to get projects off the ground; for example, Allan, on his own and without steady revenue, makes no headway. Shields rounds out his story with melodrama, such as when a distraught Lisa continually checks to see if Allan has left her a message.

The villains have little impact in this tale, but its white-collar plot is continually fascinating.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-78301-901-4

Page Count: 372

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2016

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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