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THE PIPER'S WARNING

From the Highland Spirits series , Vol. 2

An enjoyable, solidly paced escape.

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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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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

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 16, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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THE UNSEEN

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Norwegian novelist Jacobsen folds a quietly powerful coming-of-age story into a rendition of daily life on one of Norway’s rural islands a hundred years ago in a novel that was shortlisted for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Ingrid Barrøy, her father, Hans, mother, Maria, grandfather Martin, and slightly addled aunt Barbro are the owners and sole inhabitants of Barrøy Island, one of numerous small family-owned islands in an area of Norway barely touched by the outside world. The novel follows Ingrid from age 3 through a carefree early childhood of endless small chores, simple pleasures, and unquestioned familial love into her more ambivalent adolescence attending school off the island and becoming aware of the outside world, then finally into young womanhood when she must make difficult choices. Readers will share Ingrid’s adoration of her father, whose sense of responsibility conflicts with his romantic nature. He adores Maria, despite what he calls her “la-di-da” ways, and is devoted to Ingrid. Twice he finds work on the mainland for his sister, Barbro, but, afraid she’ll be unhappy, he brings her home both times. Rooted to the land where he farms and tied to the sea where he fishes, Hans struggles to maintain his family’s hardscrabble existence on an island where every repair is a struggle against the elements. But his efforts are Sisyphean. Life as a Barrøy on Barrøy remains precarious. Changes do occur in men’s and women’s roles, reflected in part by who gets a literal chair to sit on at meals, while world crises—a war, Sweden’s financial troubles—have unexpected impact. Yet the drama here occurs in small increments, season by season, following nature’s rhythm through deaths and births, moments of joy and deep sorrow. The translator’s decision to use roughly translated phrases in conversation—i.e., “Tha’s goen’ nohvar” for "You’re going nowhere")—slows the reading down at first but ends up drawing readers more deeply into the world of Barrøy and its prickly, intensely alive inhabitants.

A deeply satisfying novel, both sensuously vivid and remarkably poignant.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77196-319-0

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Biblioasis

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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