Lucid, unpretentious fiction spotlighting the drama of trying to make the divine part of our everyday lives.

THE DELIGHT OF BEING ORDINARY

A ROAD TRIP WITH THE POPE AND THE DALAI LAMA

Another genre-defying installment in Merullo’s engaging series of seriocomic religious novels (Dinner with Buddha, 2015, etc.).

As the subtitle signals, the leaders of two world religions are our guides on this “road trip,” reluctantly accompanied by Pope Francis’ cousin and First Assistant Paolo. He has plenty of enemies in the Vatican bureaucracy and is not anxious to give them more ammunition by facilitating his cousin’s desire for “an unofficial vacation” with the visiting Dalai Lama. This requires the help of Paolo’s estranged wife, Rosa, conveniently the proprietor of a chain of haircutting and makeup salons; she not only crafts their disguises, but voices feminist, secularist doubts about Catholicism and Buddhism while driving a borrowed Maserati with a hair-raising recklessness that alarms her cautious spouse almost more than her challenges to organized religion. Drawing on his apprenticeship as a thriller writer (A Russian Requiem, 1993), Merullo leavens the spiritual questioning with a sharp portrait of emotional and sexual tensions between Paolo and Rosa, plus escalating suspense after news reports cast the disappearance as a kidnapping and Paolo as the perpetrator. The quartet heads toward Lake Como, pausing along the way for biblically-tinged encounters with a shepherd, a prostitute, and a world-weary old movie star wondering why wealth and sex haven’t made him happy. Admirers of previous volumes will recognize Merullo’s knack for depicting goodness without treacle in his deft portraits of the pope and the Dalai Lama, and a La Dolce Vita–esque party scene spotlights his ability to discern humanity in the most decadent circumstances. There is a bit too much plot and too few moments of the transcendent serenity that formed the most beautiful passages in The Vatican Waltz (2013) and the Buddha trilogy. Nonetheless, it’s both moving and unnerving when key characters from those earlier novels reappear at a climactic encounter forecast by the holy men’s dreams to suggest that there may be spiritual hope for our battered world.

Lucid, unpretentious fiction spotlighting the drama of trying to make the divine part of our everyday lives.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-385-54091-9

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 27, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2017

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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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