A richly atmospheric, character-driven wilderness thriller.

ONE SUMMER ON CUTTHROAT LAKE

A disparate group of people encounter unexpected peril in the mountains in this historical novel.

Duffy, the author of The Artichoke Queen (2015), opens his new story in 1946. Francine Lilley is a divorced woman who’s made a long, tedious train voyage from New York City to tiny Braxton, Wyoming, where she’s bought a run-down dude ranch, The Flying U, and intends to reinvent her life by making a go of the place. Also intent on remaking her life is Jessica Quick, who’s come to live with her sister after enduring a broken love affair and a miscarriage, both of which have driven her into a destructive pattern of heavy drinking. Jessica takes a job as cook and general helper at The Flying U, working for the boss of the place, Ed McCann, and hoping someday to be allowed to lead a group of hunters and tourists on a trek into the backcountry around Cutthroat Lake. The novel’s opening third depicts Francine and Jessica’s slow acclimation process and introduces various complications; for example, a group of high-spirited New York friends come to visit Francine and see the Wild West, and a young war veteran named Sonny Trace introduces himself to both Jessica and Francine, the latter of whom thinks that he looks like a gunslinger, “even if the only gunslinger she’d ever seen was in a Hollywood film.” When Ed leads an expedition to the lake that encounters an aggressive grizzly bear, things take a tragic turn.

Duffy’s storytelling is deceptively laconic; by the time Ed’s expedition sets out, readers will be fully invested in the major characters and their various, clashing worlds. The dramatic addition of an almost supernaturally malevolent bear to the proceedings just makes the overall story more compelling. The author makes a wise narrative choice to pull the reader out of the company’s immediate peril and instead focus on Jessica and Sonny as they track them and grow increasingly worried; the suspense is skillfully handled and refreshingly melded with the growing personal attraction between the two latter characters. Duffy adopts a pleasing, quasi-folkloric tone in some of his narration, which fits well with the wild setting; at one point, for example, he stoically writes about a past bear-attack victim: “It had been so cold the man had barely bled, and by the time his fellow hunters got to him, they found him sitting on a log singing a trail song, his bloody exposed teeth whistling in the breeze.” The author carefully manages the pacing in the book’s second half, although some readers may balk at the behavior of the monster grizzly, which sometimes seems more like the shark in Peter Benchley’s Jaws than anything that hikers are likely to encounter in real life. Nonetheless, the human characters are well drawn throughout, and the tension of the climax is so adroitly handled that readers won’t be able to put the book down. Fans of C.J. Box’s and Paul Doiron’s work will likely find this book appealing.

A richly atmospheric, character-driven wilderness thriller.

Pub Date: June 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-60489-236-9

Page Count: 232

Publisher: Livingston Press

Review Posted Online: April 30, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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