An engrossing tale that reveals a nation's fraught history.

ARIA

An orphan grows up during decades of unrest in Iran.

Making an impressive fiction debut, Hozar creates a vibrant, unsettling portrait of her native Iran from the 1950s to 1981, a period beset by poverty and oppression, chaos and revolution. The tale begins in 1953, when a desperate new mother abandons her newborn in a garbage-strewn street in Tehran. While wild dogs scavenge through the trash, a man wandering through the neighborhood hears a muffled cry. Behrouz, an illiterate truck driver for the army, rescues the baby and impetuously names her Aria, for music that evokes “all the world’s pains and all the world’s loves.” Behrouz takes the infant home to his wife, Zahra, a hardhearted woman who resents her husband and balks at this new imposition and responsibility. In a culture rife with superstition, she is suspicious of the child, whose blue eyes, Zahra believes, “mean… the devil’s in her.” With Behrouz gone for weeks at a time, Zahra vents her anger at Aria, whom she beats and nearly starves. But as if in a fairy tale, suddenly the girl’s fortunes change: She finds herself in a new home, this time with an emotionally reticent woman who strives to do good works in order to atone for her privilege. As Aria later recalls, she had “a mother who left her, a mother who beat her, and a mother who loved her but couldn’t say so.” Aria goes to school, where her two closest friends are children whose parents hold drastically different views about Iran’s politics: The girl’s father is repeatedly arrested for being a communist while the boy’s wealthy family “sells the Shah his diamonds.” Cries of “Death to the Shah! Long live Khomeini!” portend the violent upheaval that changes the country’s—and Aria’s—future.

An engrossing tale that reveals a nation's fraught history.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-524-74903-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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