An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.


From the Highland Spirits series , Vol. 2

The sound of bagpipes ushers in MacKinnon’s (The Comyn’s Curse, 2019) latest mystery, which features murder, drugs, centuries-old castles, romance—and a couple of ghosts.

The second volume in MacKinnon’s Highlands Spirits Series reconnects most of the cast from the opener. Detective Kate Bianchi of the Harrington, New Jersey, police force has just been assigned to a prestigious new task force investigating the rapid spread of a dangerous new hallucinogen called “Reign” (or “Regicide” in Europe). The drug is apparently being imported from somewhere in the Scottish Highlands. However, before Kate begins working on the case, she learns that her husband, Eddie, has died in a construction accident. She’s distraught and unfocused and put on temporary leave. Aubrey, one of Kate’s best friends, is now living in Scotland and engaged to Fionnlagh “Finn” Cameron, a history professor, part-time guide, and bagpipe enthusiast. Kate takes up residence at Aubrey’s friend Nessie’s rooming house in Inverness. In the same city, at her friend Angus’ bookshop, she meets the handsome, albeit scowling, Detective Investigator Jack MacDonald of the Scottish national police force, which is also working on the Reign enigma. Much to his consternation, Kate is added to his investigative team. So the adventure begins, mixing danger with an engaging lesson in Scottish history and culture—including a unique, running tutorial on bagpipes. When Aubrey, Finn, and Kate check out Dunebrae Castle as a possible honeymoon destination, the past and the present begin to intertwine—in ghostly fashion. The author effectively intersperses a mournful love story from 1644 with the suspenseful events of the current investigation. Along the way, MacKinnon drops perhaps a few too many breadcrumbs, and, as a result, readers are unlikely to be shocked when the villain is revealed. However, the author sufficiently keeps up the tension and the narrative pace, throwing in a few intriguing twists to keep the plot engaging. The text is also peppered with Scottish phrases (a glossary is included), and this adds to the charm of the characters and the atmospheric location.

An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-951490-08-9

Page Count: 344

Publisher: DartFrog Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 7, 2020

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.


A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 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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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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