An entertaining crime yarn full of sly humor and unexpected uplift.

CRIMINALS

Two lost souls in Japan attempt to get their lives on track by running drugs in this caper novel.

Karpa’s tale follows characters living on the margins of an atmospheric Tokyo circa 1994. Floyd Conner, a 20-something gay American expatriate, smuggles a brick of hashish from Bangkok to help his lover, bar owner Arata, pay his debt to the yakuza. Conner is surprised to discover an attraction to his housemate, Katie, when she seduces him; later, he wakes up to find that Katie has stolen the hash and fled. When he tracks her down, she beats him up and gives him the slip again. He desperately tries to recoup his losses with a drug run to Hawaii on behalf of American ex–intelligence operative Paul Barkley. Along the way, Conner meets Marika Shirayama, a 30-year-old Japanese bar hostess who’s fleeing a stifling marriage and an awful mother-in-law. Paul ropes Marika into the Hawaiian trip to help him with a shady real estate deal he’s plotting, but she and Conner quickly recognize each other as kindred spirits and wind up in bed together, as well. When police nab Conner at the Tokyo airport, he and Marika become tangled in a web of betrayals. Karpa’s comic noir has the feel of an Elmore Leonard novel, with colorful grifters and creeps tangled in tawdry machinations in a vividly rendered demimonde. Tokyo is a vibrant setting of traditional niceties and crass modernity, where “the diesel-scented air flowing freely into [Conner’s] lungs felt excellent.” The mysteries are psychological and spiritual as well as conspiratorial, as much about Conner’s thoughts about his sexuality and Marika’s longing “to see the vastness of the earth” as they are about drug-smuggling schemes. Karpa renders amusing action and intricate procedures in spare, observant, and mordantly funny prose that finds meaning in every gesture, as when a woman bows “too low, as women her age always seemed to do, as though competing for a national title in submission.” Readers will root for Conner and Marika to make it through Customs unscathed.

An entertaining crime yarn full of sly humor and unexpected uplift.

Pub Date: Sept. 21, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-73624-441-8

Page Count: 356

Publisher: Mumblers Press LLC

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2021

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Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

APPLES NEVER FALL

Australian novelist Moriarty combines domestic realism and noirish mystery in this story about the events surrounding a 69-year-old Sydney woman’s disappearance.

Joy and Stan Delaney met as champion tennis players more than 50 years ago and ran a well-regarded tennis academy until their recent retirement. Their long, complicated marriage has been filled with perhaps as much passion for the game of tennis as for each other or their children. When Joy disappears on Feb. 14, 2020 (note the date), the last text she sends to her now-grown kids—bohemian Amy, passive Logan, flashy Troy, and migraine-suffering Brooke—is too garbled by autocorrect to decipher and stubborn Stan refuses to accept that there might be a problem. But days pass and Joy remains missing and uncharacteristically silent. As worrisome details come to light, the police become involved. The structure follows the pattern of Big Little Lies (2014) by setting up a mystery and then jumping months into the past to unravel it. Here, Moriarty returns to the day a stranger named Savannah turned up bleeding on the Delaneys’ doorstep and Joy welcomed her to stay for an extended visit. Who is Savannah? Whether she’s innocent, scamming, or something else remains unclear on many levels. Moriarty is a master of ambiguity and also of the small, telling detail like a tossed tennis racket or the repeated appearance of apple crumble. Starting with the abandoned bike that's found by a passing motorist on the first page, the evidence that accumulates around what happened to Joy constantly challenges the reader both to notice which minor details (and characters) matter and to distinguish between red herrings and buried clues. The ultimate reveal is satisfying, if troubling. But Moriarty’s main focus, which she approaches from countless familiar and unexpected angles, is the mystery of family and what it means to be a parent, child, or sibling in the Delaney family—or in any family, for that matter.

Funny, sad, astute, occasionally creepy, and slyly irresistible.

Pub Date: Sept. 14, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-22025-7

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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