Less detection than horror, less horror than plain old revulsion. But Kaaberbøl deploys strategically limited period detail...

A LADY IN SHADOWS

A second round of turn-of-the-last-century detection for aspiring French pathologist Madeleine Karno (Dr. Death, 2015) that lays on horrors of every sort they could imagine in 1894.

On the very day that the president of the Third Republic is stabbed to death by an Italian anarchist, the city of Varbourg is home to a much more modest homicide: the slashing of prostitute Rosalba Lombardi. Those who think her death was a hate crime directed in revenge against the Italian community don’t include Madeleine, whose sharp observations lead her to a theory of the murder that is as novel as it is unpleasant and set her on a collision course with a journalist whose headline screams: “JACK THE RIPPER IN VARBOURG!” Soon, however, that theory is moot, for Madeleine, whose application to the medical school at the University of Varbourg has been denied because she might prove a distraction to her male cohort, is accepted as a student by Adrian Althauser, a docent in physiology who, unlike every other member of the faculty, has expressed a particular interest in taking on female students. Madeleine works hard, answering questions smartly in class, vivisecting a squid without fainting (which is more than can be said of her lab partner), and braving the indifference of her mentor and the contempt of Erich Falchenberg, a former lover of her fiance, August Dreyfuss, professor of parasitology at Heidelberg University. Her reward, alas, is to learn that Althauser’s plans for her are very different indeed from what she’d expected—and then to learn that a second prostitute whom she’d befriended has been killed at exactly the same time she was learning the truth about Althauser.

Less detection than horror, less horror than plain old revulsion. But Kaaberbøl deploys strategically limited period detail with a surgical precision as great as her heroine’s to set her struggles in a context of anti-female bias past and present.

Pub Date: Dec. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-4767-3142-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Sept. 3, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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