First-novelist Carnahan is a stylist who upgrades pulp to the Turkish-coffee richness of Cain, Hammett, and Chandler.


“She was Frigidaire cool, and I wanted her bad.” The Postman Always Rings Twice? Double Indemnity? No, Carnahan, a James M. Cain knockoff who knows the female of the species to be very dangerous.

Cain invented the novel that takes a profession—law, insurance—as deep background for a thriller. Here, Carnahan offers a deep understanding of life in a failing big-top circus. Bailey Quinn, 22, tossed out of college in his junior year, takes up “copping free”—or robbing stores by cutting through windows. He’s also into the big con, with plans to make a major theft, then return to college. And he’s a drug addict and drunk. He lands a summer job with a traveling circus that can’t always meet its payroll and is managed by an alcoholic owner who turns over management to the Freaks. The Freaks have a clear head for beating taxes by keeping the circus’s take in hard cash. Among them: the serpent girl, a busty and beautiful sexpot with no legs, one missing arm, and one short arm with a flipper, who is married to a mentally stunted giant. (Is this the ’30s classic flick Freaks? William Lindsay Greshman’s Nightmare Alley?) Bailey decides to rob the circus on the night before the weekly cash intake is shorted by the Freaks and banked. To find out which night that is, he romances the serpent girl. But he also falls for Sissy, a drug addict with wrecked veins but three years clean and sober, who takes him to an AA meeting that melts him to tears. “She had disappeared into the burning land of damage and risen again, whole and somehow fortified, like porcelain from the kiln. I was still somewhere deep in the smoldering wreckage. The only thing I could do was drag her back in; there was no potential upside to time spent with me.”

First-novelist Carnahan is a stylist who upgrades pulp to the Turkish-coffee richness of Cain, Hammett, and Chandler.

Pub Date: March 8, 2005

ISBN: 1-4000-6270-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2004

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.


A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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