A captivating maritime story, both subtle and dramatic.

DEAD RECKONING

A historical novel combines a personal drama among sailors on a naval ship with a navigational catastrophe.

In 1923, Eugene Dooman, secretary at the American Embassy in Tokyo, disembarks from the SS President Cleveland in the San Francisco Bay Area, whose Barbary Coast is “famed for sin and depravity from its earliest days.” Despite being a “worldy wise” man who has traveled widely, he’s robbed by swindling sailors who make off with his wallet, leaving him without money or identification. Serendipitously, he runs into Capt. Edward H. Watson, an old friend, who invites him aboard the USS Delphy, headed to San Diego. Watson promises to do his best to track down the miscreants who purloined Dooman’s wallet, apparently unaware that the gang is among his own crew. Meanwhile, Emmett Haines, the leader of the misfits, meets Ruby, who kindles in him a desire for something more: “I’m good at what I do. I’m good at separating a man from his money, at least in small amounts. But I get the feeling I could be good at something bigger. Something more important.” Ray and Vannier tantalizingly chronicle the way in which the Delphy becomes a dramatic tinderbox—Watson pursues the thieves, and Haines has a falling-out with the gang members. All the while, the ship, due to faulty navigation, heads toward an avoidable disaster. Based loosely on a real event—the ship calamity—the authors skillfully explore the dislocation of a sailor’s life, permanently unmoored and perpetually enticed by seedy temptations. In addition, the romantic spark between Haines and Ruby is electric—they seem to notice in each other both a casual indifference to conventional morality and a longing for a fuller life. As she puts it: “A grifter knows a grifter.”

A captivating maritime story, both subtle and dramatic.

Pub Date: Sept. 8, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-940776-06-4

Page Count: 144

Publisher: Baaa Press

Review Posted Online: June 28, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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