A brace of strong stories, and the novella's a fine, suspenseful contribution to the thriving genre of Appalachian mayhem.

IN THE VALLEY

Rash's latest is a collection of 10 stories anchored by a novella featuring the ruthless Serena Pemberton of his best-known novel, Serena (2008), as she returns to the U.S. and resumes her reign of terror. Though Serena has received the lion's share of attention, the short story has always been Rash's best genre. Several pieces collected here—mostly set in western North Carolina from the Civil War to the present—center on revenge that wants to see itself as righteous. Rash is expert at revealing the sword of vengeance's double edge—how honed it is, how it cuts whomever wields it. In the excellent "Flight," for example, Stacy, a wounded, justice-minded young park ranger, determines that she'll have the better of a local who keeps tauntingly poaching trout. Another standout is "The Belt," about an octogenarian Civil War veteran and his talisman, the lucky brass buckle that saved him in battle. His family has struggled mightily—that buckle's luck has never seemed transferable—but old Jubal hopes the luck might extend, in one last moment of crisis, to his namesake grandson, a toddler. Perhaps best of all is "L'homme Blessé," about a recently widowed art teacher summoned to a deep-country cabin where an old man, psychologically wrecked after World War II, lived out his days sheltered by his own art—a near-perfect re-creation of the drawings inside a French cave the shattered soldier had visited. But the title novella makes for the centerpiece. Unrepentant lumber queen Serena has returned home, where she needs to accomplish the impossible: clear-cut a last mountaintop forest in just days. To do so—with the help of her conscienceless enforcer, Galloway, and his terrifying, spooky mother—she must bribe, cajole, intimidate, murder, perhaps even bend the rules of time, but there's little Serena can't do. Sure, now and again Rash tries to channel Cormac McCarthy and fails; a couple stories seem slight; and so on. But those are quibbles, not disfiguring flaws. A brace of strong stories, and the novella's a fine, suspenseful contribution to the thriving genre of Appalachian mayhem.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54429-0

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: May 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 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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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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