EXCHANGE ALLEY

Densely plotted New York tough-cop procedural that incongruously mixes gruesome walks on the wild side with KGB-CIA intrigue. Beginning initially inside a secret CIA dungeon, this first novel from music journalist Walsh (Andrew Lloyd Webber, not reviewed, etc.) quickly cuts to the discovery of a naked, bullet-ridden, castrated male corpse in the Rockland County woods not far from an abandoned BMW with Danish diplomatic plates registered to a Manhattan address. NYPD Homicide Lieutenant Francis X. Byrne studies the corpse in the gruff and tough style we expect from seen-it-all New York cops until he finds, inside the BMW, a photo of two women, one of whom seems to be Byrne's mother minus 30 or so years. The unsettled Byrne pockets the photo, makes a call on the Danish consulate, and lets Ingrid, who's not afraid to be a sexy Danish clichÇ spy, take him (as a prelude to seduction) through some of Manhattan's more disgusting kinky sex clubs—clubs that were frequented by the murder victim, a Danish consulate employee named Egil Ekdahl, who had his own perverse version of an Oedipus complex. Walsh punctuates numerous in-your-face close-ups of urban debauch with giddy flashbacks that reveal Ekdahl's true identity as a KGB spy who had something to do with a Russian defector who may have been a KGB spy with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and a plot to kill John F. Kennedy. The story falls apart when Byrne's sputtering, mean-spirited brother Tom, an FBI agent, swaggers onto the scene with revelations about Cold War sexual blackmail and the news that nothing is as it seems, including their dear old mom. Byrne is forced to accept the notion that good and evil are relative in more ways the one. Crisply written and thoroughly preposterous mean-streeter. An afterword implies a factual basis to some of the author's fictive imaginings.

Pub Date: July 9, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52069-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

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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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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