An intermittently arcane but undeniably original debut.



Friendship between two beekeepers leads to tragedy.

Elderly bachelor Albert Honig has lived in a California orange grove all his life, tending to several beehives. The neighborhood around him is gradually changing as farmland gives way to freeways and strip malls. The routine he has cultivated, imparted long ago by his own father, is comforting, until one day in 1992, it is disrupted when he discovers the bodies of his next-door neighbors, murdered, it appears, during a botched robbery. The victims, Hilda and Claire Straussman, sisters known as the Bee Ladies, are also lifelong residents of the area, and perhaps their bodies would have been discovered earlier had Albert not been estranged from them for the past 11 years. The estrangement becomes the central quandary of the novel, which weaves back and forth in time, exploring the longstanding but forever unacknowledged attachment between contemplative Albert and sylphlike, mercurial Claire. Bee lore, grounded equally in modern science and ancient tradition, is interspersed throughout, positing the life of the hive as a template for a human family. As Albert is interrogated by a suitably sardonic police detective, his circumspect narration raises other mysteries besides the identity of the culprits: What happened to turn Hilda into a taciturn hulk? Who inflicted the bruises on teenage Claire’s neck? What accounts for 20-something Claire’s long stay in Alabama, after which she returned with an infant? That infant, David Gilbert, supposedly abandoned by a relative to be raised by the Straussmans, will, in turn, become estranged from the Bee Ladies—based on the same incident which severed Albert’s connection with them. Someone is eventually convicted of the murders, but a question remains: Was this truly a random tragedy or one as inevitable as a bee colony’s collapse? The sheer oddness of Albert’s world contributes to a sense of creeping dread, and his ornate diction successfully conveys his archaic sensibility, with occasional lapses in clarity.

An intermittently arcane but undeniably original debut.

Pub Date: March 7, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-399-15905-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2013

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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her...


Avery Stafford, a lawyer, descendant of two prominent Southern families and daughter of a distinguished senator, discovers a family secret that alters her perspective on heritage.

Wingate (Sisters, 2016, etc.) shifts the story in her latest novel between present and past as Avery uncovers evidence that her Grandma Judy was a victim of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society and is related to a woman Avery and her father meet when he visits a nursing home. Although Avery is living at home to help her parents through her father’s cancer treatment, she is also being groomed for her own political career. Readers learn that investigating her family’s past is not part of Avery's scripted existence, but Wingate's attempts to make her seem torn about this are never fully developed, and descriptions of her chemistry with a man she meets as she's searching are also unconvincing. Sections describing the real-life orphanage director Georgia Tann, who stole poor children, mistreated them, and placed them for adoption with wealthy clients—including Joan Crawford and June Allyson—are more vivid, as are passages about Grandma Judy and her siblings. Wingate’s fans and readers who enjoy family dramas will find enough to entertain them, and book clubs may enjoy dissecting the relationship and historical issues in the book.

Wingate sheds light on a shameful true story of child exploitation but is less successful in engaging readers in her fictional characters' lives.

Pub Date: June 6, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-425-28468-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2017

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