A well-turned seriocomic tale about death in a place where it’s become inescapable.

BEIRUT HELLFIRE SOCIETY

An undertaker manages his grimly booming business in Beirut in 1978.

Hage’s fourth novel (Carnival, 2013, etc.) concerns Pavlov, the son of the longtime operator of the Beirut Hellfire Society, which surreptitiously moves the bodies of those killed by sectarian violence, regardless of religious or political affiliation, to a remote crematorium. When his father is himself killed by a bomb, Pavlov continues the business with a stolid determination. Following a year in his life, the novel is more episodic than plotted, constructed on piercing character studies of the corpses he’s obliged to take care of and the surviving locals who leave Pavlov either bemused or heartsick. A self-declared libertine who catalogs his sexual transgressions in lurid detail wants his funeral to involve his body hanging above a massive party; another man wants his ashes spread in the same place as those of the gay son he disowned; a married woman wants to be secretly buried next to her lover; a woman whose entire family was killed becomes mute and shellshocked, camping on the steps of Pavlov’s building. Pavlov himself is targeted by a Christian militiaman, and a life defined by death soon wears on him: He hears the voice of his dog talking to him, and he’s increasingly entangled in the lives of his extended family members. (A cousin has a laugh like a hyena; man’s animalistic nature, from Pavlov’s nickname on down, is a recurring theme.) Despite the mordant mood, there’s something vivifying for both the reader and Pavlov alike in these vignettes, a sense that our thoughts about death are the true crucible for our lives, even if our hero is left unimpressed with humanity by the experience. Asked by a militiaman what he believes in, he says flatly, “I believe in dogs.”

A well-turned seriocomic tale about death in a place where it’s become inescapable.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-324-00291-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2019

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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping...

WITHOUT FAIL

From the Jack Reacher series , Vol. 6

When the newly elected Vice President’s life is threatened, the Secret Service runs to nomadic soldier-of-fortune Jack Reacher (Echo Burning, 2001, etc.) in this razor-sharp update of The Day of the Jackal and In the Line of Fire that’s begging to be filmed.

Why Reacher? Because M.E. Froelich, head of the VP’s protection team, was once a colleague and lover of his late brother Joe, who’d impressed her with tales of Jack’s derring-do as an Army MP. Now Froelich and her Brooks Brothers–tailored boss Stuyvesant have been receiving a series of anonymous messages threatening the life of North Dakota Senator/Vice President–elect Brook Armstrong. Since the threats may be coming from within the Secret Service’s own ranks—if they aren’t, it’s hard to see how they’ve been getting delivered—they can’t afford an internal investigation. Hence the call to Reacher, who wastes no time in hooking up with his old friend Frances Neagley, another Army vet turned private eye, first to see whether he can figure out a way to assassinate Armstrong, then to head off whoever else is trying. It’s Reacher’s matter-of-fact gift to think of everything, from the most likely position a sniper would assume at Armstrong’s Thanksgiving visit to a homeless shelter to the telltale punctuation of one of the threats, and to pluck helpers from the tiny cast who can fill the remaining gaps because they aren’t idiots or stooges. And it’s Child’s gift to keep tightening the screws, even when nothing’s happening except the arrival of a series of unsigned letters, and to convey a sense of the blank impossibility of guarding any public figure from danger day after highly exposed day, and the dedication and heroism of the agents who take on this daunting job.

Relentlessly suspenseful and unexpectedly timely: just the thing for Dick Cheney’s bedside reading wherever he’s keeping himself these days.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-399-14861-2

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2002

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