We now owe another debt to Shakespeare, and one to Haig, for re-imagining a tragic masterpiece with such wit, force...

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THE DEAD FATHERS CLUB

Literary influence is neatly reconfigured in the English author’s second novel (after The Last Family in England, 2005), in which an 11-year-old schoolboy is commanded to seek revenge by the ghost of his murdered father.

“Dad’s ghost” appears to Philip Noble, not on the battlements at Elsinore, but at the family-operated Castle and Falcon Pub, where mourners gather following his funeral. The spirit explains that his apparently accidental death in a car crash was in fact engineered by Philip’s paternal Uncle Alan, an auto-dealer who has designs on Philip’s now conveniently widowed Mum. Dad’s ghost also explains the unhappy fellowship of the title group, whose members hover, unavenged and restless, between the dead and the living—while spurring the reluctant Philip to action, evoking from the boy reactions that astound his family, teachers and schoolmates, and even the forthright older girl (Leah), who matter-of-factly declares him her boyfriend. An act of violence (though not the one intended) ensues, and the embattled Philip—whose unpunctuated, edgy narration is an utter delight—even does some hasty growing up. Haig rather overworks the pattern of carefully spaced allusions to Hamlet (e.g., mischief-making tins Ross and Gary; pronouncing the wonderfully slimy Uncle Alan a “smiling damned villain”). But there are nice characterizations of Philip’s Mum (so needing to be loved that she’s blind to her brother-in-law’s stratagems) and his sympathetic teacher Mrs. Fell, whose practiced niceness does not cloud her keen understanding of boyish bravado and secrecy. The author also makes effective use of the image of Hadrian’s Wall (which occasions a class trip and essay subject) and to its reputation as a barrier between civilization and savagery. As such, it also embodies Philip’s quite credible vacillations between obedience and moral choice.

We now owe another debt to Shakespeare, and one to Haig, for re-imagining a tragic masterpiece with such wit, force and—yes—originality.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2007

ISBN: 0-670-03833-4

Page Count: 314

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2006

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An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel.

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DEATH IN HER HANDS

A note suggesting a woman has been killed in the woods captures the imagination of an elderly woman, with alarming intensity.

Vesta, the extremely unreliable narrator of Moshfegh’s fourth novel (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018, etc.), is a 72-year-old widow who’s recently purchased a new home, a cabin on a former Girl Scout camp. Walking her dog through the nearby woods, she sees a note lying on the ground which says that a woman named Magda has been killed "and here is her dead body," but there's no body there or any sign of violence. Call the police? Too easy: Instead, Vesta allows herself to be consumed with imagining what Magda might have been like and the circumstances surrounding her murder. Whatever the opposite of Occam’s razor is, Vesta’s detective work is it: After some web searching on how mystery writers do their work, she surmises that Magda was a Belarussian teen sent to the United States to work at a fast-food restaurant, staying in the basement of a woman whose son, Blake, committed the murder. Moshfegh on occasion plays up the comedy of Vesta’s upside-down thinking: “A good detective presumes more than she interrogates.” But Vesta slowly reveals herself as what we might now call a Moshfegh-ian lead: a woman driven to isolation and feeling disassociated from herself, looking for ways to cover up for a brokenness she's loath to confront. Over the course of the novel, Vesta’s projections about Magda's identity become increasingly potent and heartbreaking symbols of wounds from the narrator's childhood and marriage. The judgmental voice of her late husband, Walter, keeps rattling in her head, and she defiantly insists that “I didn’t want Walter in my mindspace anymore. I wanted to know things on my own.” You simultaneously worry about Vesta and root for her, and Moshfegh’s handling of her story is at once troubling and moving.

An eerie and affecting satire of the detective novel. (This book has been postponed; we'll update the publication date when it's available.)

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7935-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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