A wonderfully appealing, literate, compassionate, and funny Jazz Age tale; a home run.

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THE $22.50 MAN

In this comic Depression-era sequel, two newlyweds flee underworld connections to start a new life.

Jean-Yves LeFouet has a way of getting into trouble not of his own making. Having left New York City in 1929 for California to avoid repercussions from his shady boss’s downfall, he must make a return trip. Apparently, the copies of The Tale of Genji, a 1,000-year-old Japanese novel that he was ferrying to actors he thought would be auditioning for a film version, actually contained heroin, and the law got after him. It’s now 1935, and Jean-Yves wants to go straight; he’s newly married to Ariane (part Japanese, part French), his perfect match: “We’re made for each other. We love poetry and film and theater and one another.” When the cops come knocking, the couple (and their cat, Vince) manage to escape to the Big Apple. Ariane finds work in a bookstore while Jean-Yves, who has exceptionally sharp hearing, is offered an informant job with the New York City Police Department for which he’ll drive a taxi, eavesdrop on fares, and collect $22.50 a week. Typically, Jean-Yves—now calling himself John Still—nabs customs scofflaws, but soon he has a bigger target in Jacob Racker, a tannery owner and supplier of shoe leather to the NYPD. When Asian rubber-sole makers threaten to undercut him, Racker is willing to bribe political bigwigs. Meanwhile, John writes a story based on his life, and Ariane translates a Japanese woman’s ancient scroll of poetry (found in a cocktail shaker), then writes and films a play based on it. After losing his $22.50 a week job, John is hired to drive a truck for Racker’s tannery, where he becomes involved in solving a crime—and gets back into trouble.

As the author did in the first book of this trilogy, Shooting Genji (2014), Voorhees conjures up his historical period with slangy high spirits appropriate to the Jazz Age setting. The fast-moving plot packs a lot of action and well-honed characterizations into these pages, as when Otis— Racker’s nephew with a goldbricking, low-level job at the tannery—defends his status: “We’re like chemists.” But the author is a storytelling master who has many registers available to him, from a cat’s point of view (“Hide hide. Under the room-that-goes. I’m big. Don’t come. I’m big”) to the scroll’s heartbroken poet, whose work is extremely touching in Ariane’s translations: “If you pick up a faded bouquet gently, / And try to toss it away, / The petals will fall off / on the floor / at your feet. / It’s the same with you and me.” A subplot involving Racker’s maid and a poker-playing fellow taxi driver hooks up with the main story nicely in ways both amusing and tender. It’s a short book and over all too quickly; fans will be eager for the trilogy’s final volume. Voorhees’ monochrome watercolor illustrations deftly accompany the text, recalling Japanese ink-brush paintings with an extra splash-dab of verve.

A wonderfully appealing, literate, compassionate, and funny Jazz Age tale; a home run.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 182

Publisher: FOUND ART PUBLISHING

Review Posted Online: Nov. 17, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

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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