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McDonell’s dark, relentlessly readable latest (The Third Brother, 2005, etc.) swings back and forth between Harvard and Africa, and in both cases the education is indeed expensive.

At Harvard, brainy, beautiful professor Susan Lowell prepares to attend the party celebrating her just-earned Pulitzer. Meticulously researched, her book centers on an East African freedom fighter named Hatashil, an authentic folk hero, in Susan’s enthusiastic rendering. But hold everything. Reports have begun circulating of a brutal, bloody atrocity that has wiped out every man, woman and child in a small African village near the Kenya-Somalia border. Informed sources are labeling it “Hatashil’s Massacre.” Suddenly General Hatashil is looking downright genocidal, and is that egg besmirching Susan’s lovely face? Once noticeably in Hatashil’s corner, the U.S. government is backpedaling furiously to get out of it, leaving Susan noticeably alone. Criticism mounts, along with ugly talk about an undeserved prize that perhaps ought to be rescinded. The Crimson attacks her; students want to drop her courses. Cut to Michael Teak, a young Harvard graduate currently in the employ of U.S. intelligence. A linguist and athlete, Michael is also outstandingly courageous and lethally resourceful—a thinking man’s Rambo, as it were. In addition, he’s the only living witness to what actually happened in that ill-fated African village. But will he do the right thing? Will Susan? The 20-something author keeps his smart, ambitious, self-absorbed characters at arm’s-length, doling out understanding and compassion to them while withholding real affection.

A novel for the head more than the heart, but so very intelligent that for a certain kind of reader it will be catnip.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 2009
ISBN: 978-0-8021-1893-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Atlantic Monthly
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 2009


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FictionTWELVE by Nick McDonell
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