Dorrestein is a potent writer, but, despite some splendid moments, this is a disappointing successor to A Heart of Stone.


An intense domestic thriller in which a beloved only child’s death destroys an already shaky marriage.

The bestselling Dutch author (A Heart of Stone, 2001) tells her story largely through numerous discrete flashbacks, ones that reveal both the protected childhood of Jem Vermeer, later murdered in a disco at the age of 15, and the early years of Jem’s distraught stepfather Phinus, who was orphaned young and raised by two eccentric maiden aunts. In the present action, Phinus (who works for a company that produces board games and puzzles) and his wife Franka (Jem’s mother) have embarked on a country weekend trip. Before it’s over, they’ll encounter a pair of menacing teenaged girls, Phinus’s carefully repressed destructive emotions will surface, and long-festering tensions between him and Franka that date from Jem’s death will push them further apart. Dorrestein’s taut prose and firm concentration on her characters’ guilts and fears create several memorable confrontations between warmhearted, impulsive Franka (a social worker sustained by her faith that sociopaths are redeemable) and introverted, secretive Phinus (who knows Jem’s death could have been avoided). And flashbacks to the trial of Jem’s killer (a wretchedly unstable boy) and its aftermath are chilling in their reportorial sparseness and clarity. But Without Mercy evolves into excessive melodramatic contrivance, involving the aforementioned adolescent girls (unconvincingly portrayed as, simultaneously, callous adventuresses and frightened kids), and also—in a scarcely credible sequence—Jem’s girlfriend Sanne, who has turned to Phinus for comfort. Virtually none of the story’s later plot developments have any of the power of the fragmentary glimpses Dorrestein gives us of Jem’s unruly charm, of Phinus’s boyhood yearning to belong to a family, and of the pathos inherent in the fate of each. The overall impression thus given is of an opportunity missed.

Dorrestein is a potent writer, but, despite some splendid moments, this is a disappointing successor to A Heart of Stone.

Pub Date: July 14, 2003

ISBN: 0-670-03188-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2003

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A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

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Doerr presents us with two intricate stories, both of which take place during World War II; late in the novel, inevitably, they intersect.

In August 1944, Marie-Laure LeBlanc is a blind 16-year-old living in the walled port city of Saint-Malo in Brittany and hoping to escape the effects of Allied bombing. D-Day took place two months earlier, and Cherbourg, Caen and Rennes have already been liberated. She’s taken refuge in this city with her great-uncle Etienne, at first a fairly frightening figure to her. Marie-Laure’s father was a locksmith and craftsman who made scale models of cities that Marie-Laure studied so she could travel around on her own. He also crafted clever and intricate boxes, within which treasures could be hidden. Parallel to the story of Marie-Laure we meet Werner and Jutta Pfennig, a brother and sister, both orphans who have been raised in the Children’s House outside Essen, in Germany. Through flashbacks we learn that Werner had been a curious and bright child who developed an obsession with radio transmitters and receivers, both in their infancies during this period. Eventually, Werner goes to a select technical school and then, at 18, into the Wehrmacht, where his technical aptitudes are recognized and he’s put on a team trying to track down illegal radio transmissions. Etienne and Marie-Laure are responsible for some of these transmissions, but Werner is intrigued since what she’s broadcasting is innocent—she shares her passion for Jules Verne by reading aloud 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A further subplot involves Marie-Laure’s father’s having hidden a valuable diamond, one being tracked down by Reinhold von Rumpel, a relentless German sergeant-major.

Doerr captures the sights and sounds of wartime and focuses, refreshingly, on the innate goodness of his major characters.

Pub Date: May 6, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4767-4658-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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