A fiercely intelligent crime drama as emotionally sharp as it is historically inventive.

THE CAMEL DRIVER

From the A Harry Przewalski Novel series , Vol. 3

In Krishtalka’s (Death Spoke, 2019, etc.) third mystery-series installment, a private detective and former paleontologist investigates a bizarre incident with a complex historical pedigree. 

At Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Museum, a well-known historical diorama—Arab Courier Attacked by Lions, “one of America’s cultural treasures”—has been torn apart by someone who also attacked the exhibit’s guard. The assailant then sliced open the belly of the taxidermic camel and took something that, upon inspection, appears to have been the mummified remains of a small, female child. Without any clear suspect or motive for the crime, the police call in Harry Przewalski, a private investigator who once worked at the museum as a paleontologist; after a series of personal misfortunes, he’d joined the military and “fled to the violent solitude of a desert war.” Liza Kole, another paleontologist and who has also been Harry’s romantic partner in the past, informs him that the art installation was created, to great fanfare, 150 years ago by Jules Verreaux; he was known as the “finest taxidermist in France”—one with the skills to “give immortality” to the dead. Anna Storck, the museum’s physical anthropologist, commits suicide only two days after the vandalism, and police believe that the two events are unconnected. But Harry, in his inimitable style, is skeptical: “Yeah, well, in our business coincidence could be a fact just waiting for an equation.” He soon finds that Verreaux had seduced and impregnated a Elisabeth Greef, Dutch woman, in Capetown, South Africa, and when he abandoned her, she “sued him for betrayal.” The child inside the camel could have been hers—and the vandalism, an act of revenge.  Over the course of this novel, Krishtalka artfully conjures the grim life of the prodigiously talented Verreaux. The taxidermist is such a sordid character that there were indeed multiple reasons why someone one would want to take revenge upon him—even a century and a half after he’d created his diorama. Throughout, the author presents the evidence with great skill: Verreaux’s journals, the letters between him and Elisabeth, and detailed accounts of the trial in which she sued him for breach of contract are all revealed to connect to the modern-day mystery. Krishtalka’s prose is powerfully versatile, alternating between the sort of terse, unsentimental phrasing that one would expect from a detective story and poetical elegance. At one point, for example, when Harry sees a pencil sketch of Elisabeth, he finds himself swept away: “For a moment, Harry was lost in the damp heat of her bed, that angular face fierce in love or revenge, the full lips primed to kiss or slay, the wild hair on the pillow exploding in fervor or fury, the bare back arched in rapture or revolt, the long legs in ecstasy or constriction.” Harry’s own life also poignantly reveals duality, but his is a tug of war between painful memories and a longing to rejoin the land of the living. 

A fiercely intelligent crime drama as emotionally sharp as it is historically inventive. 

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-941237-32-8

Page Count: 279

Publisher: Anamcara Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2020

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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