A brisk and entertaining read; less a mystery than an affecting character study and rumination on letting go of the past.

ON GROVE STREET

A NOVELLA

An investigation into two murders in California leads to a house on the titular street, where both victims once lived, in this novella.

The year is 1991. On a San Francisco street, Ian Christian Hamilton is cut down by two bullets. Two days later, in Sonoma, popular musician Edward Hayes is found brutally murdered in his home recording studio. Sonoma County Deputy Sheriff Ben Hyatt comes across a journal that indicates that Hayes and Hamilton were roommates 22 years earlier. He contacts San Francisco Detective Joe D’Alessandro, who is weeks away from mandatory retirement. “Maybe you and I are looking for the same somebody,” Hyatt clues him in. As they track down leads, events unfold through Hayes’ journal entries, which include love letters and magazine clippings, and time shifts that reveal the who and why. One acquaintance refers to the victims as “harmless oddballs.” They are anything but. Hamilton was a wealthy sociopath (notes his ex-wife: “I once asked him where he got the idea he could do whatever he wanted. He said, ‘Where do you get the idea I can’t’ ”). Hayes, disowned by his own wealthy father after being outed as gay, was a prodigious musical talent and seemed poised for stardom after teaming with David Copeland, another Grove Street roommate and a gifted songwriter. (Rolling Stone magazine compares Copeland to James Taylor.) Copeland, much to Hayes’ distress, is focused on teaching and his girlfriend, Kate Anderson. In his enjoyable tale, Mayfield (In the Driver’s Seat, 2011) has an engaging, crisp, spare style when it comes to dialogue that drives the story forward, as in this introductory exchange between “crusty old-timer” D’Alessandro and Hyatt: “You married?” “Not anymore.” “Veteran?” “Army. Vietnam. Infantry.” “Army. Korea. Infantry.” This is the beginning of a beautiful friendship, and if they are teamed up again, one hopes they are given more to do. Readers—privy to information they don’t have—will be mostly one step ahead of them.

A brisk and entertaining read; less a mystery than an affecting character study and rumination on letting go of the past.

Pub Date: Aug. 25, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5449-8467-4

Page Count: 160

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 2018

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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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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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