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. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.


Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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