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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The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

MERCURY PICTURES PRESENTS

An ambitious young Italian woman makes her way among the émigrés of 1930s and ’40s Hollywood.

Maria Lagana has come to Los Angeles after her father is sentenced to confino—internal exile—for his anti-fascist advocacy in Mussolini’s Italy. Living with her mother in the Italian American neighborhood of Lincoln Heights—also home to a trio of no-nonsense great-aunts forever dressed in black—Maria finds work as a typist at Mercury Pictures International, working in the office of studio head Artie Feldman, a fast-talking showman with a collection of toupées for every occasion. In time, the letters from her father stop, and Maria becomes an associate producer, Artie’s trusted right hand, as well as the secret lover of Eddie Lu, a Chinese American actor relegated to roles as Japanese villains. When a young Italian immigrant turns up at her door introducing himself as Vincent Cortese, Maria’s past—and the mystery of what happened to her father—crashes into her present. Like the author’s earlier novels, the award-winning A Constellation of Vital Phenomena (2013) and The Tsar of Love and Techno (2015), this one builds a discrete world and shows how its denizens are shaped—often warped—by circumstance. But the Hollywood setting feels overfamiliar and the characters curiously uninvolving. While the prose frequently sings, there are also ripely overwritten passages: At a party, the “thunking heels of lindy-hopping couples dimpled the boozy air”; fireworks are described as a “molten asterisk in the heavens to which the body on the ground is a footnote.”

The World War II Hollywood setting is colorful, but it’s just a B picture.

Pub Date: July 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-451-49520-4

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

THE MANY DAUGHTERS OF AFONG MOY

Covering 250 years, Ford’s new novel traces the way states of consciousness involving extreme moments of pain or joy interconnect seven generations of Chinese women.

Embedded images—airplanes, ships, waves—and the occasional ghostly vision highlight how these women’s lives reverberate as the focus moves back and forth in time. In 1942 China, Faye Moy, a nurse in her 50s who’s working with American forces, feels an eerie connection to a dying young pilot in whose pocket she finds a newspaper photograph of herself as a teenager and a note in her own handwriting that says, “FIND ME.” Finding oneself and/or one’s soul mate becomes the throughline of the book. Faye’s great-grandmother Afong Moy, the first Chinese woman in America, dies in childbirth after a short career being exhibited as a curiosity in the 1830s. Faye’s mother, Lai King (Afong’s granddaughter), sails to Canton after her parents’ deaths in San Francisco’s Chinatown fire of 1892. Onboard ship she bonds with a young White boy, also an orphan, and nurses him when contagion strikes. When Faye is 14, she has an illegitimate daughter who is adopted and raised in England. Presumably that girl is Zoe Moy, who, in 1927, attends the famously progressive Summerhill School, where a disastrous social experiment in fascism destroys her relationship with a beloved poetry teacher. In 2014, Zoe’s emotionally fragile granddaughter, Greta, loses both her skyrocketing tech career and the love of her life at the hands of an evil capitalist. While several earlier Moys receive aid and guidance from Buddhist monks, Greta’s troubled poet daughter, Dorothy, turns to both Buddhism and radical scientific treatment to uncover and understand how past crises, emotional, physical, and spiritual, are destabilizing her current life in 2045. Expect long treatises on anamnesis, quantum biology, and reincarnation before traveling with Dorothy’s adult daughter in 2086.

Ford raises fascinating questions, but a rushed ending too neatly ties up the answers in an unconvincing, sentimental bow.

Pub Date: Aug. 2, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-5821-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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