Formulaic but an effective blend of sentiment and suspense, somewhat less contrived than Rice’s last (Summer Light, 2001).

THE SECRET HOUR

Dark doings in Connecticut.

Defense attorney John O’Rourke knew he’d win no popularity contests when he agreed to represent Greg Merrill, the serial killer who liked to torture his female victims until barely still alive, then leave them bound to breakwaters or jetties until high tide drowned them. John is uncomfortably aware that even his own children don’t think much of his legal heroics on behalf of such a monster. Teenaged Teddy just wishes his father did something else for a living, but young Maggie still adores her handsome daddy. Both children are coping with the aftermath of their mother’s recent death in a car accident—geez, wonders Teddy, can’t Dad stop hanging around Death Row and come home once in a while? Several babysitters have come and gone, and John is desperate. No wonder he mistakes Kate Harris, a quiet stranger, for another candidate from the agency, while she’s really a marine biologist looking for her missing sister Willa. Kate and John’s life stories begin to unfold: John’s wife had an affair with the local lighthouse keeper; Kate’s sister had an affair with Kate’s charming but irresponsible husband Andrew. So, yes, Kate and John are Free to Love Again. But first . . . where’s Willa? Last seen at a local bed-and-breakfast, Willa has seemingly vanished. Danger lurks! Though Merrill is in prison, a copycat has struck, leaving his victim to drown on a breakwater. Will Willa be next? John consults psychiatrist Dr. Beckwith, who explains the inner workings of Merrill’s disturbed mind and mentions a creepy new development: one of his patients, Caleb, is Merrill’s pen pal. Caleb is the son of the lighthouse keeper—and an isolated lighthouse, Kate thinks, is an ideal place to hide someone, alive or dead. A gothic denouement on a stormy night leads up a twisting staircase into a secret dungeon.

Formulaic but an effective blend of sentiment and suspense, somewhat less contrived than Rice’s last (Summer Light, 2001).

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2003

ISBN: 0-553-80224-0

Page Count: 319

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2002

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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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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