An absorbing, wry mystery with a charming, rather indifferent sleuth.



In this 1950s-set novella, an unlicensed Vancouver private eye works a case that entangles him with a traveling circus and thuggish clowns.

Carnegie Fitch has a paying gig lined up involving a potential insurance scam. But another case takes precedence when local circus owner Adora Carmichael hires the private investigator. She wants to know what happened to Jim, a janitor who recently died after drunkenly driving through a circus tent and into a lake. Jim was like an uncle to Adora years ago when he was a clown at her father’s circus. Fitch already has a vested interest in this, as Jim, who worked in the same building as the gumshoe’s office, and the detective traded whiskey shots the night of the man’s death. A few inquiries ultimately lead to the rumor that Adora’s father was a bootlegger and used clowns as his muscle. Known as the Dead Clowns, these mean-looking circus performers are less than cooperative with Fitch. Evidently, Jim stashed some money before a lengthy prison stint, and the Dead Clowns feel entitled to the loot. They’re also convinced that Fitch knows where the cash is, making them especially dangerous, as they’re willing to do whatever it takes to extract information that the lowly PI doesn’t have. Lester’s (40 Nickels, 2019, etc.) sharply written series opener is riveting and persistently witty. It triumphs as a mystery, with Jim’s possible murder and the money that the menacing clowns want. There are also detective story conventions, as Fitch treks seedy streets while donning a fedora. But understated humor layers the narrative as well. For example, Fitch’s apparent lack of effort as a private eye prompts droll visuals, including his office door still carrying the name of the accountant who previously worked there. Like any good gumshoe, Fitch is quick with one-liners, which come easy thanks to the irony-laden, antagonistic clowns plot. A highlight is Fitch’s repeated attempts to relay a joke involving a “plastic sheep,” which no one seems to want to hear.

An absorbing, wry mystery with a charming, rather indifferent sleuth.

Pub Date: Sept. 12, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946502-02-5

Page Count: 148

Publisher: Shotgun Honey

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of...


Lifelong, conflicted friendship of two women is the premise of Hannah’s maudlin latest (Magic Hour, 2006, etc.), again set in Washington State.

Tallulah “Tully” Hart, father unknown, is the daughter of a hippie, Cloud, who makes only intermittent appearances in her life. Tully takes refuge with the family of her “best friend forever,” Kate Mularkey, who compares herself unfavorably with Tully, in regards to looks and charisma. In college, “TullyandKate” pledge the same sorority and major in communications. Tully has a life goal for them both: They will become network TV anchorwomen. Tully lands an internship at KCPO-TV in Seattle and finagles a producing job for Kate. Kate no longer wishes to follow Tully into broadcasting and is more drawn to fiction writing, but she hesitates to tell her overbearing friend. Meanwhile a love triangle blooms at KCPO: Hard-bitten, irresistibly handsome, former war correspondent Johnny is clearly smitten with Tully. Expecting rejection, Kate keeps her infatuation with Johnny secret. When Tully lands a reporting job with a Today-like show, her career shifts into hyperdrive. Johnny and Kate had started an affair once Tully moved to Manhattan, and when Kate gets pregnant with daughter Marah, they marry. Kate is content as a stay-at-home mom, but frets about being Johnny’s second choice and about her unrealized writing ambitions. Tully becomes Seattle’s answer to Oprah. She hires Johnny, which spells riches for him and Kate. But Kate’s buttons are fully depressed by pitched battles over slutwear and curfews with teenaged Marah, who idolizes her godmother Tully. In an improbable twist, Tully invites Kate and Marah to resolve their differences on her show, only to blindside Kate by accusing her, on live TV, of overprotecting Marah. The BFFs are sundered. Tully’s latest attempt to salvage Cloud fails: The incorrigible, now geriatric hippie absconds once more. Just as Kate develops a spine, she’s given some devastating news. Will the friends reconcile before it’s too late?

Dated sermonizing on career versus motherhood, and conflict driven by characters’ willed helplessness, sap this tale of poignancy.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-312-36408-3

Page Count: 496

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2007

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