An intriguing artifact for hardcore fans but an unremarkable entry point for new readers.


A scholar is invited to an eerie scholarly retreat in this melancholy blast from the past.

At the end of the 1980s, Peter Straub (A Dark Matter, 2010, etc.) was in a rough patch, having spent three years writing Koko (2011), a bleak story about murderous Vietnam veterans to which the author was emotionally attached. It was that loss that inspired this dreary novella, which was published in a very limited edition in 1990, and is now unleashed on the general reading public. The book is almost myopically centered on Professor William Standish, an undistinguished poetry researcher who believes a unique scholarship will provide a leg up on his career—not to mention a welcome reprieve from the daily haranguing from his pregnant wife Jean, already suffering from an early miscarriage. In short order, Standish has accepted an offer from Esswood House, a little-known British library known for supporting D.H. Lawrence and T.S. Eliot, among others. Standish’s fascination is with a distant relative, Isobel Standish, who published a single volume of poetry in her lifetime, Crack, Whack and Wheelin 1912. Straub does inject his characteristically subterranean sense of ordinary menace into Standish’s journey, starting with a short but near-violent encounter with the locals at a pub. “The fellow was murdered there,” the barman tells him offhandedly. Then we’re off into the labyrinthine Esswood House, tended by the even more impenetrable custodian Robert Wall. There, as Standish begins to unravel the mysteries of Isobel’s life, he starts to become a bit unraveled himself, obsessing over his wife’s impending birth and experiencing dark and disturbing visions. The writing is fine, but the story folds in on itself without ever really delivering either a genuine scare or emotional resonance. Like the novella form itself, it’s a hard act to characterize—neither a true ghost story nor an Edgar Allen Poe–like portrait of a psychological schism.

An intriguing artifact for hardcore fans but an unremarkable entry point for new readers.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-605698-304-2

Page Count: 192

Publisher: Pegasus Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2011

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...


Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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