Next book

SIMON THE FIDDLER

Vividly evocative and steeped in American folkways: more great work from a master storyteller.

Jiles follows up National Book Award finalist News of the World (2016, etc.) with another atmospheric adventure in post–Civil War Texas.

During his few reluctant months in the Confederate Army, Simon Boudlin’s main concerns are staying alive and protecting his precious fiddle so that after the war he can make enough money to buy some land and settle down with the right woman. He sees her after his unit surrenders, at a dinner for the officers: Doris Dillon is an Irish indentured servant to Yankee Col. Webb, and by the time Simon learns her name he already knows that Webb is an arrogant SOB who mistreats the help and is nasty to musicians. That’s the last Simon sees of Doris for more than a year, as he forms a band with fellow veterans (three of the novel’s many deft characterizations) and they play their way across Texas, technically under military rule but mostly in a state of near anarchy; the musicians’ gigs, brilliantly captured in Jiles’ quiet but resonant prose, are as likely to end in a brawl as with applause. Simon and his mates bunk down in stolen boats and shelled-out buildings that make visible the cost of war, but magnificent descriptions of their travels make palpable the varied beauty of the landscape, from East Texas pines to the banks of the Nueces River, where Simon plays at a wild Tejano wedding and finally has enough money to buy his dreamed-of land. He’s been in touch with Doris via letters supposedly from his Irish-American drummer, Patrick, who helpfully invents some shared relatives, and is making his way toward San Antonio to rescue his beloved, who’s finding it increasingly difficult to evade Webb’s determined advances. The pace picks up and tension rises after Simon reaches San Antonio; there are some menacing moments, but clever plotting has laid the groundwork for a happy ending with just enough hints of potential troubles ahead to remain true to Jiles’ loving but cleareyed portrait of Texas’ vibrant, violent frontier culture.

Vividly evocative and steeped in American folkways: more great work from a master storyteller.

Pub Date: April 14, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-296674-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Jan. 12, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

Next book

ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

Categories:
Next book

THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

Categories:
Close Quickview