An idiosyncratic but enjoyably atmospheric murder mystery.

DIGGING UP NEW BUSINESS

THE SWIFTPAD TAKEOVER

Some Oregon techies must deal with a possible serial killer in their ranks in this satirical mystery novel.

Portland, Oregon, 2013. Kipling Rehain, a failed “alternative energy” entrepreneur, aging pothead, and secret Luddite (he only recently learned what IT stands for), attends a programmers’ meet and greet at the Mission Theater. There, he meets Cynthia “GG” Oglethorpe, a tech wunderkind with a revolutionary idea for a social media app that will bring people together rather than fragmenting them into partisan tribes: “I want to architect it right so it actually means something. Not endless pictures of cute pets and birthday greetings….I want to do something that matches people based on their ‘anti-interests.’ Suppose everyone had friends who were the opposite of themselves?” With this meeting, SwiftPad is born, and it promises to make boatloads of cash for them and their backers. Meanwhile, a skeleton belonging to a woman who disappeared 16 years ago is discovered buried in one of the city’s utility vaults. It’s the same day that Kip’s old friend Jim Hunt starts working for the utility company. As a set of old cold cases reopens, SwiftPad’s future—and those of its founders—becomes inextricably tied to Portland’s past. Barckmann’s (Farewell the Dragon, 2017, etc.) prose is stylish and funny, particularly when he describes the changing face of the Rose City: “There seemed to be a disdain in Portland for things he thought were important: style, cars, fragrance, and the statement you made when you stood up and took off your sunglasses. And they had a thing about body odor, or rather didn’t. It was especially evident on the MAX train.” While his characters don’t always make realistic decisions—it’s unclear why GG would be attracted or even intrigued by Kip, but she sleeps with him mere hours after meeting him for the first time—the milieu is compelling enough to keep readers captivated. The book reads like a looser version of a Jonathan Lethem novel, riffing on gentrification and the tech industry while exhibiting a genuine love for detective tales and the Portland of old.

An idiosyncratic but enjoyably atmospheric murder mystery.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62901-271-1

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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 kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy,...

THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT-TIME

Britisher Haddon debuts in the adult novel with the bittersweet tale of a 15-year-old autistic who’s also a math genius.

Christopher Boone has had some bad knocks: his mother has died (well, she went to the hospital and never came back), and soon after he found a neighbor’s dog on the front lawn, slain by a garden fork stuck through it. A teacher said that he should write something that he “would like to read himself”—and so he embarks on this book, a murder mystery that will reveal who killed Mrs. Shears’s dog. First off, though, is a night in jail for hitting the policeman who questions him about the dog (the cop made the mistake of grabbing the boy by the arm when he can’t stand to be touched—any more than he can stand the colors yellow or brown, or not knowing what’s going to happen next). Christopher’s father bails him out but forbids his doing any more “detecting” about the dog-murder. When Christopher disobeys (and writes about it in his book), a fight ensues and his father confiscates the book. In time, detective-Christopher finds it, along with certain other clues that reveal a very great deal indeed about his mother’s “death,” his father’s own part in it—and the murder of the dog. Calming himself by doing roots, cubes, prime numbers, and math problems in his head, Christopher runs away, braves a train-ride to London, and finds—his mother. How can this be? Read and see. Neither parent, if truth be told, is the least bit prepossessing or more than a cutout. Christopher, though, with pet rat Toby in his pocket and advanced “maths” in his head, is another matter indeed, and readers will cheer when, way precociously, he takes his A-level maths and does brilliantly.

A kind of Holden Caulfield who speaks bravely and winningly from inside the sorrows of autism: wonderful, simple, easy, moving, and likely to be a smash.

Pub Date: June 17, 2003

ISBN: 0-385-50945-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2003

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