A modestly intriguing pastime for royalty buffs, though one requiring a certain willing suspension of disbelief.

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THE WHITE NIGHT OF ST. PETERSBURG

Another Romanov steps out of the shadows—and this time it appears to be the genuine article.

Himself part of that storied, noble clan (“my grandmother, the grand duchess Olga, was a Romanov”), Prince Michael of Greece (a novel, Sultana, 1983; The Empress of Farewells, 2002, etc.) relates a suitably improbable tale: when he was attending the 1998 funeral of Nicholas and Alexandra and their children, murdered by Bolsheviks 80 years earlier, Michael was enchanted by the presence of a regal, 82-year-old relative with the sturdy name Natalya Androssov Iskander Romanov, who claimed descent from the black sheep of the Romanov family, “Nicholas Konstantinovich, your grandmother Olga’s brother.” Nicholas, according to Natalya—who had survived the Soviet years while working as a motorcycle acrobat—had been stricken from history for having scandalized all Russia with his carryings-on, not least his affair with an American gold-digger named Fanny Lear. Prince Michael brings a certain Barbara Cartlandish sensibility to his invented description of the first encounter between these star-crossed lovers: “It was his mouth that drove Fanny wild with desire. Rather large, with red lips whose curve cast a spell over her, a smile now caressing, now ardent.” The prose toughens up a little when, on the one hand, Nicholas begins to catch on that Fanny is a little less than virtuous, and, on the other, when the royals finally boot her out of the country, having implicated both her and Nicholas in an elaborate scheme to spirit away rare jewels and fund an anti-tsarist revolution therewith. Fanny fades away into history, having failed in her effort to cash in with a memoir published in France (“the imperial government, once alerted, managed to get the French Republic to confiscate the book and deport its author”). Nicholas was shipped off east of the Urals, where he distinguished himself as a geographer and explorer, still nursing his love for Fanny.

A modestly intriguing pastime for royalty buffs, though one requiring a certain willing suspension of disbelief.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-87113-922-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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