A smart, controlled debut from a writer who addresses poverty and criminality in a variety of registers.

TROUT, BELLY UP

A set of linked stories spotlighting the ironies and precarity of life in rural Guatemala.

Fuentes’ first book in English is slim but potent, focused on poor farmers and their struggles to get by amid threats from wealthier and better-armed interlopers. Central among them is Don Henrik, a well-traveled plantation owner who’s trying to improve his standing: In the opening title story, he starts farming rainbow trout, a project that proves surprisingly challenging for the narrator, a farmhand whose affair distracts him from his task of keeping the fish alive. The metaphors aren’t subtle (invasive species, emotional and environmental sustainability, etc.), but Fuentes (via Jones’ crisp translation) delivers the story with a Carver-esque bluntness. In “Dive,” Henrik recalls his addict brother, Mati, and a foolhardy act of his while snorkeling, which makes for a taut set piece about the way one family member’s questionable behavior radiates outward. In the closing story, “Henrik,” the title character risks being forced to give up his land, as a group of thugs' gentle suggestions morph into more terrifying high-pressure extortion tactics. The tone in the stories isn’t strictly foreboding: “Out of the Blue, Perla” features a cow raised to behave like a dog, including walking on its hind legs, baffling some gunmen; the mood of growing threat is undercut by a note of absurdity. And in the tender, atmospheric “Whisky,” Mati is in recovery and raising a family, kept company by a dog whose disappearance has an unexpectedly deep impact. Still, something dark always lurks just around a turn in these stories, and though Fuentes tends to avoid describing violence itself, he harrowingly captures how the threat of it intensifies and deepens. His climaxes are the moments when, as one character puts it, “the wolves take off their sheep’s clothing.”

A smart, controlled debut from a writer who addresses poverty and criminality in a variety of registers.

Pub Date: Jan. 28, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-9164-6561-9

Page Count: 97

Publisher: Charco Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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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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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY

An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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