A compelling fable about the pitfalls of ruminating too much and living too little.

CODE OF DISJOINTED LETTERS

A man’s obsession with secret writings leads him to strange encounters and offbeat ideas in this darkly mysterious fantasia.

In this debut novel, Oktay is a doctor living in Istanbul who likes to think about such cosmic conundrums as time travel, astrology and UFOs. His deepest passion is his search for an occult code that will reveal hidden messages in the Quran, which takes up so much of his time that he loses his job and strains his marriage to his long-suffering wife. After writing a dense treatise on the code, revealing messages that are anything but clear, he’s invited on to a bizarre reality show with five other contestants who possess esoteric knowledge, including a physicist, a clergyman, a fortuneteller, a spiritual medium and a young boy with prophetic gifts. They compete in increasingly enigmatic challenges, from running a maze to creating unspecified products and taking part in group projects. Mainly, however, they sit around talking about financial markets, noncoding DNA, entropy, the arrow of time, the Mayan apocalypse and so on, in expansive but murky terms. Some contestants are eliminated, and then the narrative adds a devil who terrorizes and beats Oktay and an angel who protects him; each offers his own discourse on the relative worthiness of the human race. The ideas in this slender novel are seldom posed with clarity or depth, nor are they apparently meant to be. Instead, its religious/philosophical/scientific reflections seem meant to suggest vast, obscure patterns of existence—pictures that emerge only in the aggregate, at a far remove from the seemingly meaningless pixels of individual experience. From them, the novel conjures a mood of Kafkaesque bafflement that’s explained but not dispelled by a late reveal that readers will likely see coming. Fortunately, Alkan’s deft magical realism and talent for evocative description and sharply-etched characters make for an engaging story. Overall, its emotional resonance doesn’t bog down in the sometimes-muzzy intellectualism.

A compelling fable about the pitfalls of ruminating too much and living too little.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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