A wobbly start, but eventually Martin—like the complex woman he's conjured—finds his way.

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YOURS, JEAN

The fifth novel from Martin, based on a real crime in small-town Illinois in 1952, begins with the on-campus murder of Jean De Belle on the first day of her first job as a high school librarian.

Jean has come to town after breaking her engagement and severing ties with hard-drinking salesman Charlie Camplain. She’s moved into an upstairs room in the home of a student and her mother, a widowed English teacher whose affection for her protégé and lodger strikes some in town as suspicious. The book’s first hundred pages, which detail Charlie’s clamorous arrival in town to win Jean back, the crime, and his capture, are a bit flat and desultory, but Martin gains his footing at the novel’s midpoint, where the book's impelling force changes from plot to psychology and where its focus turns to the crime’s beautifully mapped aftershocks. We follow the lonely, lovelorn middle-aged hotel clerk who summoned a cab for Charlie and noticed his gun; the toothless, good-natured cab driver who ended up playing a pivotal role in his capture; the high school boy pressed into service as an unwitting getaway driver on what was already the worst day of his life; that boy's estranged and anguished girlfriend, Robbie McVeigh; and the novel’s moral center and best element, Robbie's mother, Mary Ellen, the landlady, confidante, and accused lover of Miss De Belle, who stubbornly refuses to defend herself or to submit to the binary "Is she or isn't she?" thinking that the school board and fellow townspeople demand of her. In the end, Martin creates a subtle and intricate portrait of small-town mores and of the after echoes and reverberations, for those who've witnessed it, of sudden, shocking violence.

A wobbly start, but eventually Martin—like the complex woman he's conjured—finds his way.

Pub Date: May 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-950539-14-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dzanc

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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