Initially slow but enjoyable and more complex than its more madcap shenanigans would suggest.

READ REVIEW

BATURI

A rash decision thrusts a young British volunteer into the middle of a Nigerian military coup in a debut novel inspired by the author’s own time in Africa.

Twenty-four-year-old Matthew Ferguson is a math teacher in the small town of Hadejia in the northern sector of Nigeria in the 1980s. He’s been in the country for 18 months, working with the British Voluntary Service Overseas, and he’s begun to acclimate to its climate, food, and culture. However, he’s not comfortable with the seemingly built-in “respect” he’s accorded, solely for being a “baturi” (white man). Readers meet him just before he dismisses his training-college class for a three-week school vacation. He’s emotionally in flux; his girlfriend back home has ended their relationship, and he’s struggling with doubts over whether he’s imparting anything useful to his students. He’s also ambivalent about an impending visit with friends during a planned trip to Bama, near the Cameroon border, because he’s broke. It’s during this journey—which is derailed before he ever reaches Bama—that Matthew gets himself into more trouble than even his active imagination could have envisioned, as he finds himself in the midst of an attempted revolution. What follows is an improbable two-week adventure that offers moments of great exhilaration (including a car chase that will remind readers of scenes from the 1968 film Bullitt), close calls, and plenty of angst. For good measure, there’s also a budding romance with an attractive Canadian woman named Chantel. The story may be on the far edge of credulity, but it’s fun. Those who come to the narrative seeking merely excitement, however, will need patience, as the action doesn’t begin until about two-fifths through the book. Still, the early sections contain some of the most evocative passages, and they lay the groundwork for the real focus of the story, which is the people of Hadejia and the lessons of true friendship. By the time things really start to get rolling, readers will be well-acquainted with the main characters and the terrain they travel. In narrator Matthew, Stephen creates a likable, self-effacing protagonist who ably imparts the warmth and generosity of the people he meets as well as the poverty, corruption, and constant heat of Northern Nigeria: “I could feel rivulets of sweat growing under my hair. Sweat began to trickle down my chest and down my face. Drops began to drip from the end of my nose.” Every walk he takes is an opportunity to reveal something about a country on the precipice of financial collapse: “I reached the mournful site of an unfinished town gate. Like so many things in Nigeria, it had failed to reach completion before its finance reached exhaustion.” Matthew’s fun-loving British helicopter pilot buddy, Bob, provides a good foil for the novel’s more reticent hero, and the Nigerian carpenter Koli is so touching and steadfast that readers will remember him long after they turn the final page.

Initially slow but enjoyable and more complex than its more madcap shenanigans would suggest.

Pub Date: Oct. 23, 2014

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 249

Publisher: Matador

Review Posted Online: Aug. 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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