A delightful, well-designed ride for readers who enjoy a long journey down a road filled with intriguing detours.

MONTE CARLO MASQUERADES

A debut mystery novel delivers an opulent historical setting: Monaco in March 1914.

It is the height of “the season” in Monte Carlo, and the quarter practically overflows with Americans, Brits, Russians, and Germans. Among the wealthy and royal revelers are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Murphy from San Francisco. As the book opens, Murphy has been found dead in his bed in Monte Carlo’s prestigious Hôtel de Paris, a bullet hole in his back. Mrs. Murphy’s heirloom diamond and emerald necklace is retrieved from Joe’s pocket. But wait! The necklace is “paste,” a cheap duplicate. The original is missing. A German dictionary is found by the body; a mysterious pair of train tickets to Ireland is uncovered. When the coroner later discovers that Murphy died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Chief Inspector Gautier wants to drop the case even though poisoned whiskey was also found on the night table—shooting a dead person is not a crime. Mrs. Murphy and her detestable cousin, Ted Wycliffe, want answers, and her American secretary, 21-year-old Lily Turner, the female lead of this drama, wants to recover the stolen necklace to secure the reward money. It turns out that Lily has taken the secretarial position to help fund the budding detective agency she and her friend Fran Jameson have recently established. The primary male protagonist, 40-something Paul Newcastle, a surveillance director of the Monte Carlo Casino, is partnered with Lily to protect the hotel’s reputation. The cast of characters grows; murder suspects multiply, as do the killings; and everybody has a secret back story that is revealed only gradually as the complex novel progresses. Monte Carlo is filled with spies (the lead-up to World War I forms a silent backdrop), not to mention a major arms dealer. Readers will have to stay on their toes to keep track of all the subplots and interconnections. Renfro’s prose is stylized and meticulous despite the occasional missing or misplaced word that should have been caught in editing (for example, “Was it was the one you identified”). The author deftly duplicates the flourishes of early 20th-century language and provides her narrator with a pleasant hint of sarcasm. Here is Lily sizing up Paul, whose top-drawer presentation is many layers removed from his guttersnipe heritage in Liverpool: “This time, Lily focused on the posh accent. Possibly pure gold. Possibly pinchbeck. She was incapable of detecting the slips in diphthongs or variations in vocabulary that betrayed the metal’s baseness.” Paul is the most complicated character, a skillful con man planning his next big score yet haunted by a past tragedy and a betrayal by his nephew. Lily is a formidable heroine—smart, pretty, determined to make her own way in the world. Enhanced with historical tidbits and vivid descriptions of Monaco and its habitués, the narrative is engaging and fun. This is an old-fashioned mystery that is chock full of twists, humor, and sophisticated writing.

A delightful, well-designed ride for readers who enjoy a long journey down a road filled with intriguing detours.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5201-1393-7

Page Count: 440

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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ONE DAY IN THE LIFE OF IVAN DENISOVICH

While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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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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