A solid historical drama exploring ethical themes, hampered by flawed prose.

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A Pennsylvania-set debut novel that spans the 1930s through ’60s with a story of grudges, forgiveness, criminals, and the law.

In South Philadelphia in 1931, some unemployed people line up for a $4 weekly allowance, while others plot crimes instead. Tony Becker ropes 19-year-old Nick Scavello into robbing Jake Moski’s clothing shop; when police officer John Linden hears shots coming from Moski’s, he and his partner run to help. In the ensuing chase, Nick is shot dead, but not before he slashes John in the thigh, causing crippling nerve damage. This opening incident has far-reaching effects: Nick’s brother Al, another petty criminal, vows vengeance on the police; Mark, John’s Drexel University–bound son, harbors bitterness about his father’s injury; and Jake, eager to repay John’s bravery, offers to cover Mark’s college tuition. Mark is the protagonist of the rest of the novel, and as he works his way through law school and marries heiress Gloria Walker, he struggles to abide by his principles. Later, as a district attorney, Pennsylvania governor, and potential presidential candidate, he must resist sketchy propositions from the local crime ring—even when it leads Al and his cronies to threaten his daughter, Susan. Author Charles’ careful research into such details as prices, salaries, and period slang (“He didn’t welsh on any bets and he couldn’t think of anyone who would squeal on him”) lends authenticity to the historical narrative. However, the story’s time jumps feel disjointed; for example, Chapter 3 is set in 1934, Chapter 4 in 1941, and Chapter 6 leaps ahead 13 years. The present-tense narration is a mostly effective strategy, although its lack of consistency (“He pauses, then went on”) is a blot on the style. There are also frequent typos (“it’s you’re fault”; “I guess she feel asleep”), subject-verb agreement issues, and occasionally missing punctuation. However, Charles does maintain the suspense about Susan’s parentage—Mark worries that she’s actually Gloria’s ex-boyfriend Harry St. Clair’s daughter—and about whether Al will pay for his crimes. The unusual title is a metaphor taken from poker: is Mark willing to sacrifice two other people in his race to the top? Or will mercy win out in the end? The book’s gentle, pay-it-forward message—and its unsubtle presentation of the Gospel—gives it the flavor of a morality tale.

A solid historical drama exploring ethical themes, hampered by flawed prose.

Pub Date: May 4, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4959-8252-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2016

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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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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