Enormous fun: another lively winner from a newly established mistress of the genre.

PERSONA NON GRATA

A third deftly plotted puzzler starring Roman battlefield physician Gaius Petreius Ruso and his former house servant—and present lover—Tilla (Terra Incognita, 2008, etc.).

The body count is small, but the intrigue is thick and suitably baffling as the action moves from Roman-occupied Britain to the home front in Gaul, to which Ruso is unexpectedly summoned by his endlessly demanding family. A letter supposedly sent by his curmudgeonly brother Lucius informs the medicus, who’s recuperating from an accidental injury, that his relatives are suspects in the presumed murder of Severus, the greedy creditor who was threatening to bust their assets. Astutely misdirecting us, Downie opens with a scene set aboard a burning merchant ship, on which Ruso’s brother-in-law Justinus is held captive. Then the scene shifts to Ruso’s homecoming, accompanied by Tilla, and the resumption of frayed relations with his snotty stepmother Arria, various half-sisters and other family and their ubiquitous naked toddlers, a wily senator (Fuscus) intent on turning the Rusos’ new ill-fame to his advantage, a lovesick gladiator (Tertius) and Gaius’ combative ex Claudia, more recently Severus’ spouse and possibly “the bitch” identified as his poisoner by the deceased’s final words. Nobody seems upset that Severus has been iced, but crisscrossing investigations produce ever more embarrassing disclosures as the mayhem evolves into something very like an extended episode of Everybody Loves Raymond with togas and guest appearances by the Marx brothers. Ruso’s sullen wit is dependably delightful (“the beheading of unruly relatives seemed a little harsh, but obviously one would exercise discretion”). And when the unquenchably curious Tilla encounters acolytes of the odd new faith called Christianity, we know Downie is sharpening her knives for Ruso’s next surgically precise adventure.

Enormous fun: another lively winner from a newly established mistress of the genre.

Pub Date: July 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-59691-609-8

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2009

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD

A first novel, this is also a first person account of Scout's (Jean Louise) recall of the years that led to the ending of a mystery, the breaking of her brother Jem's elbow, the death of her father's enemy — and the close of childhood years. A widower, Atticus raises his children with legal dispassion and paternal intelligence, and is ably abetted by Calpurnia, the colored cook, while the Alabama town of Maycomb, in the 1930's, remains aloof to their divergence from its tribal patterns. Scout and Jem, with their summer-time companion, Dill, find their paths free from interference — but not from dangers; their curiosity about the imprisoned Boo, whose miserable past is incorporated in their play, results in a tentative friendliness; their fears of Atticus' lack of distinction is dissipated when he shoots a mad dog; his defense of a Negro accused of raping a white girl, Mayella Ewell, is followed with avid interest and turns the rabble whites against him. Scout is the means of averting an attack on Atticus but when he loses the case it is Boo who saves Jem and Scout by killing Mayella's father when he attempts to murder them. The shadows of a beginning for black-white understanding, the persistent fight that Scout carries on against school, Jem's emergence into adulthood, Calpurnia's quiet power, and all the incidents touching on the children's "growing outward" have an attractive starchiness that keeps this southern picture pert and provocative. There is much advance interest in this book; it has been selected by the Literary Guild and Reader's Digest; it should win many friends.

Pub Date: July 11, 1960

ISBN: 0060935464

Page Count: 323

Publisher: Lippincott

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1960

Did you like this book?

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

BAREFOOT

Privileged 30-somethings hide from their woes in Nantucket.

Hilderbrand’s saga follows the lives of Melanie, Brenda and Vicki. Vicki, alpha mom and perfect wife, is battling late-stage lung cancer and, in an uncharacteristically flaky moment, opts for chemotherapy at the beach. Vicki shares ownership of a tiny Nantucket cottage with her younger sister Brenda. Brenda, a literature professor, tags along for the summer, partly out of familial duty, partly because she’s fleeing the fallout from her illicit affair with a student. As for Melanie, she gets a last minute invite from Vicki, after Melanie confides that Melanie’s husband is having an affair. Between Melanie and Brenda, Vicki feels her two young boys should have adequate supervision, but a disastrous first day on the island forces the trio to source some outside help. Enter Josh, the adorable and affable local who is hired to tend to the boys. On break from college, Josh learns about the pitfalls of mature love as he falls for the beauties in the snug abode. Josh likes beer, analysis-free relationships and hot older women. In a word, he’s believable. In addition to a healthy dose of testosterone, the novel is balanced by powerful descriptions of Vicki’s bond with her two boys. Emotions run high as she prepares for death.

Nothing original, but in Hilderbrand’s hands it’s easy to get lost in the story.

Pub Date: July 2, 2007

ISBN: 978-0-316-01858-6

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2007

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet
more