Remarkably well-paced and well-written, this novel ends with an existentially astute finale. Don’t expect to be able to set...

THE GLOAMING

A propulsive literary thriller toggles between Switzerland and Tanzania.

In a concise, elegant seven paragraphs, Finn (Shame, 2015) opens her second novel with the intimations of an affair. The narrator, Pilgrim Jones, has discovered that her husband, a globally influential human rights lawyer, has abandoned her, and his deception sets up a lethal incident. Pilgrim awakens in a Swiss hospital, having smashed her car into a village bus stop, killing three children. For reasons that only gradually come into focus, she decamps for Tanzania, where the bush is “a tangled, knitted green stretching over the earth, a hot wool itching with insects, snakes, and birds.” Finn, who writes with a psychological acuity that rivals Patricia Highsmith’s, switches between Europe and Africa in tense alternating chapters, rewarding close attention. The book is terrific on diplomatic detail and police craft, the murkiness of human motivation and the pervasiveness of corruption. The parallels on both continents are subtle and thrilling. The Swiss investigator of Pilgrim’s car crash, preparing to face the dead children’s families, lets the rain pummel him: “It was better if he looked wet and bedraggled; his sympathy would appear more authentic.” Finn, who grew up partially in Kenya, writes supplely about Africans and the whites who move among them. The novel travels 175 pages in Pilgrim’s voice, then switches into third-person segments centered on each of five characters who’ve crossed her path: the Swiss police inspector, a tiny Tanzanian doctor, a Midwestern American bent on starting an AIDS orphanage, a Ukrainian mercenary, and a drunken white ne’er-do-well. Each has been altered by atrocity, a quality that Finn imbues with familiarity. “Tom would say to me that violence becomes an identity,” Pilgrim thinks, “how people see themselves in the world, and to ask them to stop being violent is asking them to erase themselves.”

Remarkably well-paced and well-written, this novel ends with an existentially astute finale. Don’t expect to be able to set this book down or forget its haunted characters.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-937512-47-7

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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