A busy but breezy swashbuckling caper awash in intrigue and headlined by two indefatigable heroes.


This third installment of a historical mystery series by a London-based American playwright reunites readers with two clever 19th-century sleuths.

After successfully solving the mystery of missing cheese and investigating a gas leak explosion at a Baltimore museum exhibition, the crime-busters Cassius Lightner and his longtime fiancee, Amanda Crofton, return in fine form to address a seafaring murder in 1817. A flustered Crofton arrives at Lightner’s United States Patent Office to debate Superintendent Dr. William Thornton’s halted testing of her hand-held rocket harpoon invention, initially conceived for the American military. But that subplot is sidelined by the appearance of Denise LaSalle, a teenage paleontologist whose father is a Royal Navy captain. She’s teamed up with Lightner and Crofton to seek government funding to uncover proof that a giant sea monster existed at one time and could still be alive. Returning to assist the sleuths are former American sailor Charlie Dunn, who imparts some political wisdom on the country’s nagging problems with racial inequality, and Lightner’s astute sister, Caroline. When LaSalle turns up dead in the clutches of a beached sea creature’s tentacles, the mystery begins to churn, especially when Lightner and Crofton increasingly suspect foul play. Hidden bureaucracy, besmirched whalers, and a host of plausible suspects emerge from the depths of Giesser’s (A Nude of Some Importance, 2016, etc.) well-written, genteel-voiced whodunit, reliably steeped in American history as usual. The witty novel’s detective spadework plays out nicely against a backdrop of salty dialogue and strings of hit-or-miss jokes as well as narrative perspectives from both Lightner and Crofton. Crofton’s ingenious harpoon invention ends up making her a walking target because the idea “has the potential to revolutionize whaling and upset the current power structure in the industry.” Stirring the pot is Madeleine Serurier, the conniving wife of a former French minister to the United States and ex-friend of Crofton’s, whose greed has caused her to become a nefarious schemer. Fans of the author’s enchanting gumshoes will find them at their most sparkling and outspoken here, though the plot of this particular tale, featuring dark humor and political red tape, lacks momentum in spots. But the finale delivers a rousing courtroom melodrama that should certainly please readers.

A busy but breezy swashbuckling caper awash in intrigue and headlined by two indefatigable heroes.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-67844-994-0

Page Count: 219

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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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.


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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