A mystery in which melodrama reigns, with an admirably tenacious protagonist.

RIVERTOWN HEROES

In Cohen’s debut thriller, a lawyer returns to his Washington hometown in the 1970s only to discover a swarm of illicit endeavors may be linked to his family.

Nathan Hirsch is a low-ranking but zealous attorney at a Washington, D.C., firm. Though he generally follows his boss’s script in the courtroom, Nathan takes an opportunity to branch out on his own. This unfortunately entails violating one of the firm’s policies and results in his termination. He retreats to Bethell, Washington, where his depressed mother rarely goes outside, having never recovered from the deaths of her older son, Ritchie, in Vietnam, and her husband, Leon, from a heart attack. Staying in Auntie Riva’s basement, Nathan has a chance to practice law again thanks to “Uncle” Harry King, a family friend and his parents’ lawyer. Nathan isn’t yet licensed in Washington state, but a judge allows him to act as public defender under Harry’s supervision. The same judge later pressures Nathan into representing Wally Richmond, a man arrested for burglary and the murder of “Uncle” Si Galitzer, another Hirsch family friend. Meanwhile, Harry, executor of Si’s will, enlists Nathan as his attorney. Harry anticipates that Si’s brother, Frank, will be in an uproar over a piece of the will, but Nathan wasn’t expecting the peculiarities surrounding Si. Digging deeper exposes a string of shady deeds and businesses as well as the possibility that Harry’s somehow involved. Cohen slowly sets the hook for readers. Nathan’s inevitable downfall in D.C., for one, isn’t a mere preamble but a meticulously drawn-out event. Characters unhurriedly reveal rich back stories, from Harry to Nathan’s D.C. boss, Lynn Reilly. The novel is unquestionably a murder mystery, and there are several suspicious characters. The most riveting is Ritchie. Nathan blames himself for events that drove his brother out of the family. This also ties to Katie, Ritchie’s girlfriend, currently in Bethell and seemingly harboring ill will toward Harry. Nathan’s lack of confidence often dulls the narrative. He sees himself as Reilly’s or Harry’s “puppet” and a lesser man than Ritchie. His keen observations, however, produce effervescent details: in Auntie Riva’s parlor, “the walls do not shake with the past chatter or the laughter that would make a place feel lived in, sounds you might expect to seep into the walls over generations and echo back across time.” The story has merit as a legal thriller; though few scenes take place inside a courtroom, Nathan successfully employs legal maneuvering (e.g., at a bank) to retrieve information. But the genuine focus is on Nathan as a young man overcoming never-ending hurdles. Watching him fight to earn respect within his family and as a lawyer is exhilarating, even before considering all the criminal goings-on.

A mystery in which melodrama reigns, with an admirably tenacious protagonist.

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5328-7925-8

Page Count: 306

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2017

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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