Nicely rendered details of southern small-town life in the ’60s, but a debut that tries to do and be too much.

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WINDCHILL SUMMER

An ambitious, if overplotted, coming-of-ager chronicles the summer of ’69, when a murder in a small Arkansas town is connected to the Vietnam War and leads to unsettling revelations.

The story is told mainly by Cherry, a gangly blond college senior, but characters now dead also tell their tales and, by adding their explications of the plot, often undercut the drama. Cherry, born and raised in Sweet Valley, where liquor can be sold only in members-only clubs, revival services are popular, and people marry young, is not sure she wants to stay on after college. Working for the summer at the local pickling plant, she and best friend Baby plan to teach when they graduate; meantime, however, they’re ready for fun and new experiences. The narrative picks up as Tripp Barlow, a handsome Vietnam vet, arrives in town the night Carlene, a former classmate of Cherry and Baby’s, is murdered. Cherry soon learns that Tripp knew war casualty Jerry Golden, the boy Carlene loved. While Carlene and Jerry tell their stories from the grave, Cherry falls in love with Tripp, experiments with pot, and goes to movies her pastor condemns. Too loving a daughter to lose her way, she understands that the summer might be the break she needs before settling down. Baby, though, whose family is from the Philippines, has led a less sheltered life, and, as the summer progresses she’s torn between seductive businessman Jackie and Bean, her long-time boyfriend who drinks too much, is abusive, and has had terrible nightmares since serving in Vietnam. By end, a stash of Jerry’s letters reveals that Tripp participated in the My Lai massacre, the murderer of Carlene is found, and a wiser Cherry is ready for fall and the future.

Nicely rendered details of southern small-town life in the ’60s, but a debut that tries to do and be too much.

Pub Date: June 1, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-50319-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2000

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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