ANGELMAKER

A bang comes at the door, and with it an offer that one shouldn’t refuse but must. Thus begins Brit novelist Harkaway’s (The Gone-Away World, 2008) latest stuffed-to-the-rafters romp through genres and eras. 

Harkaway is the son of spy-thriller master John le Carré, but he has none of his father’s economy or world-weariness. Indeed, he takes a more-is-better approach: If one jape is good, 10 will kill; if one dramatic arc succeeds, let’s have a few more. The tale opens up as a sort of hard-boiled fantasy: The unfortunately named Joe Spork, a clock repairer by day, finds himself drawn into a weird web involving his father, a gangster and half of British intelligence during World War II and the early years of the Cold War, all courtesy of a sort of doomsday machine that falls into his possession. The current inhabitants of Whitehall want it. So does a bad, bad Asian dictator. A band of steampunks called the Ruskinites—you’ve got to know a little something about Victorian aesthete John Ruskin for that joke to work—figure in the proceedings, as do assorted hunters and collectors. Joe has a few choices: He can hit the trail, he can turn tough-guy and fight back or he can sell out. Which choice he’ll stick with is a matter on which Harkaway leaves us guessing, meanwhile traveling the edges between fantasy, sci-fi, the detective novel, pomo fiction and a good old-fashioned comedy of the sort that Jerome K. Jerome might have written had he had a ticking thingy instead of a boat as his prop. Harkaway is a touch undisciplined; his tale stands comparison to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, but it’s a lot looser, and sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. But it’s a funny surfeit, rich with good humor and neat twists—and you’ve got to love the self-doubting super-spy heroine, once a bit of a femme fatale, now a dotty oldster: “She has to admit privately that she may be mad…She has not lost her marbles or popped her garters, or any of the cosier sorts of madness she had observed in her contemporaries. She has, if anything, gone postal.” A touch early in the season for a beach book, though just the kind of thing to laugh at away from polite society. Top-notch.

 

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59595-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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