An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously...



From the The Goldfinder series , Vol. 1

A series opener delivers a tale of gold fever and destiny in the Old West.

Like so many others, John Valory heads to the Sierra Nevada in the early 1850s because of the California Gold Rush. He brings his family, including Magya, his Russian wife; his 17-year-old son, Petr John (Magya claims that “the Valorys were so poor they couldn’t afford ink for the second ‘e’ in Petr’s name”); and his 8-year-old daughter, Annabel Rochele. But the Valorys didn’t come to pan for gold; John and his son are lumbermen, harvesting trees to construct flumes and other wooden structures for an organized group of miners led by Dain King. Two major events threaten the survival of the Valorys: a tragic family secret John and Magya share with King and Petr’s discovery of a mother lode of gold buried in a lake. Annabel follows her beloved brother to the lake and gets lost. In Petr’s tireless journey to find his sister, he discovers truths about himself and his past lives. Throughout her ordeal, Annabel also takes strength from a former life and in the transcendent love she has for Petr. In this novel, the first of four volumes, Clausen (The Black Butterfly Woman, 2013, etc.) adds elements of ancient Egyptian theology, Native American and Norse mythology, Scottish folklore, and a sprinkle of Nazi ideology to his allegorical tale. Though most of the characters are carefully fleshed out, King is a Hitler-esque villain, almost too bad to be true. The writing is muscular, rich with Native American nature symbols and vivid descriptions of the setting. Brisk pacing and multiple well-balanced plotlines keep the narrative moving despite an overreliance on foreshadowing. The mystical book is clearly well-researched and includes a trove of relevant historical facts and anecdotes. But this is not a G-rated Western: rape, murder, and torture are both alluded to and graphically depicted, and sometimes the victims are children.

An unusual gold-rush novel and atypical Western offers a hero’s journey with plenty of action and savagery incongruously spiked with a glittering vein of symbols and stories drawn from diverse myths.

Pub Date: May 18, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-5075-8341-8

Page Count: 316

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2017

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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.


In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be...


Some very nice, very smart African-Americans are plunged into netherworlds of malevolent sorcery in the waning days of Jim Crow—as if Jim Crow alone wasn’t enough of a curse to begin with.

In the northern U.S. of the mid-1950s, as depicted in this merrily macabre pastiche by Ruff (The Mirage, 2012, etc.), Driving While Black is an even more perilous proposition than it is now. Ask Atticus Turner, an African-American Korean War veteran and science-fiction buff, who is compelled to face an all-too-customary gauntlet of racist highway patrolmen and hostile white roadside hamlets en route from his South Side Chicago home to a remote Massachusetts village in search of his curmudgeonly father, Montrose, who was lured away by a young white “sharp dresser” driving a silver Cadillac with tinted windows. At least Atticus isn’t alone; his uncle George, who puts out annual editions of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, is splitting driving duties in his Packard station wagon “with inlaid birch trim and side paneling.” Also along for the ride is Atticus’ childhood friend Letitia Dandridge, another sci-fi fan, whose family lived in the same neighborhood as the Turners. It turns out this road trip is merely the beginning of a series of bizarre chimerical adventures ensnaring both the Turner and Dandridge clans in ancient rituals, arcane magical texts, alternate universes, and transmogrifying potions, all of which bears some resemblance to the supernatural visions of H.P. Lovecraft and other gothic dream makers of the past. Ruff’s ripping yarns often pile on contrivances and overextend the narratives in the grand manner of pulp storytelling, but the reinvented mythos here seems to have aroused in him a newfound empathy and engagement with his characters.

If nothing else, you have to giggle over how this novel’s namesake, who held vicious white supremacist opinions, must be doing triple axels in his grave at the way his imagination has been so impudently shaken and stirred.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-229206-3

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Nov. 4, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2015

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