The Sense of Death

In Dalrymple’s debut thriller, a woman capable of sensing spirits might be unknowingly putting herself in danger when she gets close to exposing a murderer.
Ann Kinnear can’t converse with ghosts, but her ability to sense a lingering spirit, or “essence,” is enough for her to work as a consultant for police in a missing person case. But it’s a job for client Mavis Van Dyke that catches a killer’s attention. Mavis, who wants to live in a haunted house, hires Ann to walk through prospective homes. Ann is so disturbed by an angry spirit at a Philadelphia house that she won’t even go inside. When Detective Joe Booth hears of this, he asks Ann to return to the residence, hoping to validate his belief that the seller, Biden Firth, murdered his wife, Elizabeth. Biden learns about Ann, too, and he starts obsessively keeping an eye on her and her brother/business partner, Mike, to ensure that Ann doesn’t help the detective solve his case. Dalrymple’s novel features a protagonist who’s amiably reclusive—she’s none too happy that a History Channel special gets her recognized in public—but also relatable, especially considering her endearing relationship with Mike, who, even as a child, fully believed in her spirit sensing. Ann’s special talent is distinctive and remarkable; though people usually call her a psychic, she can’t directly communicate with spirits (a fact that is repeated a few too many times) and instead senses them via glowing lights, sounds or smells, e.g., the scent of a dead man’s pipe tobacco. Though Ann sees herself as a “freak,” she isn’t portrayed as such. The story touches on her affinity for Garrick, who relates to Ann by sharing a similar ability. While Mike and Ann’s separation from the ongoing murder case helps build suspense (Biden has the advantage since they don’t know what he looks like), the investigation gets a dramatic punch from Joe’s visits with Elizabeth’s grieving mother, Amelia, as well as updates on Biden’s daughter, 2-year-old Sophia, whom the father often neglects. The book closes with adequate resolution and is bolstered by an intense scene with at least one life in peril.
A frighteningly meticulous villain and a formidable protagonist will have readers breezing through the pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615919775

Page Count: 324

Publisher: William Kingsfield Publishers

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

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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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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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