A less-than-thrilling takeoff on the Kennedy murders.

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THE LOST TESTIMONY OF BONES LEBEAU

WITH THE REVELATIONS OF MAJOR OLEG XAPAKTEP, KKGB (RET)

The new novel by Bond (The Doorstep of Depravity, 2005, etc.) looks at the Kennedy assassinations through the eyes of an unsuspecting witness to conspiracy.

It’s the summer of 1963. Cajun ingénue Bones LeBeau arrives in New Orleans and lands a waitress job at a seedy restaurant where a clique of underworld-type figures known to her only by their first names holds court in the back room. Bones and her co-worker Tina keep busy in back serving food and playing strip dice-rolling games for the entertainment of the regulars and their guests, including a gentlemanly singer they call Mr. Frank. But she occasionally overhears their unsettling table talk about Cuba, “The Company,” “Norma Jean” and a certain objectionable public servant; her innocent suggestion that they get said official fired sparks a malevolent glimmer in their eyes. Drifting to Dallas, Bones works at a strip club belonging to one Mr. Jack, brings hamburgers to a group of men who discuss rifles in French and picks up on veiled talk of hypnosis; come November 22, she starts to discern a monstrous plan amid these disjointed observations. The author steeps Bones’ story in atmospheric settings and punchy dialogue, and Kennedy assassination mavens will enjoy spotting various figures and plot shards from prominent conspiracy theories. Unfortunately, the heroine’s naïve ramble through history is so perfunctory that no suspense builds while we wait for the opaque conversations and low-key encounters to gel into the tragedy we know is coming. (An explanatory appendix by a fictional KGB operative makes the conspiracy vaster and more confusing, but no more exciting.) Then, in a subplot set in ’68, two random people are clued in by Bones’ taped reminiscences to a looming conspiracy against Bobby Kennedy and face this dilemma: should they race to California to thwart another assassination, or should they just sit around until it unfolds in front of them on TV? Stymied by his characters’ passivity, Bond tries to juice things up with drawn-out striptease scenes, but even these are so good-natured and prim that our pulses stay rock steady.

A less-than-thrilling takeoff on the Kennedy murders.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-0967355122

Page Count: 218

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2010

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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