Leith’s narrative runs mildly manic after a while, but the dichotomy between his unruffled prose and the mad events at hand...

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THE COINCIDENCE ENGINE

When a British student comes to possess a physics-bending device, all hell breaks loose on his journey across America.

Former Telegraph editor Leith (Sod’s Law, 2009, etc.) spins a bewildering tale of cat-and-mouse, theoretical science and conspiracy theories in a novel that sometimes threatens to baffle its audience. A comic thriller whose characters are all deadly serious, the book shows much of the same imaginative verve as Steven Hall’s mind-bender The Raw Shark Texts (2007). The pursuers in the book are all chasing Alex Smart, a Cambridge post-grad who has impulsively flown to America to propose to his girlfriend in San Francisco. But strange happenings are afoot around Alex. The young man has inadvertently acquired a device dubbed The Coincidence Engine, which affects the way probability works and grows more powerful each time it works. This explosive effect has attracted the attention of the Directorate of the Extremely Improbable, a collection of Men (and Women) in Black led by the ambitious Red Queen. “Our job is to assess threats to national security that we don’t know exist, using methods that we don’t know work,” she says. “This produces results that we generally can’t recognize as results, and when we can recognize them as results, we don’t know how to interpret them.” We also get a satisfying back story about the engine’s mad creator, Nicolas Banacharski, who is loosely based on the reclusive mathematician Alexander Grothendieck. Trying to put things right, or at least turn them off, are Bree and Jones, a level-headed DEI agent and her psychotic partner. In Alex’s path, a 737 materializes out of a hurricane, traditional machinery malfunctions and the inevitable frogs fall from the sky. It’s a little Gravity’s Rainbow with a pinch of airport thriller and a dash of The X-Files, and a dizzying stir.

Leith’s narrative runs mildly manic after a while, but the dichotomy between his unruffled prose and the mad events at hand ultimately foster a savvy comedic groove.

Pub Date: Feb. 7, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-71642-2

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2012

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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Cheerfully engaging.

WHAT ALICE FORGOT

From Australian Moriarty (The Last Anniversary, 2006, etc.), domestic escapism about a woman whose temporary amnesia makes her re-examine what really matters to her.

Alice wakes from what she thinks is a dream, assuming she is a recently married 29-year-old expecting her first child. Actually she is 39, the mother of three and in the middle of an acrimonious custody battle with her soon-to-be ex-husband Nick. She’s fallen off her exercise bike, and the resulting bump on her head has not only erased her memory of the last 10 years but has also taken her psychologically back to a younger, more easygoing self at odds with the woman she gathers she has become. While Alice-at-29 is loving and playful if lacking ambition or self-confidence, Alice-at-39 is a highly efficient if too tightly wound supermom. She is also thin and rich since Nick now heads the company where she remembers him struggling in an entry-level position. Alice-at-29 cannot conceive that she and Nick would no longer be rapturously in love or that she and her adored older sister Elisabeth could be estranged, and she is shocked that her shy mother has married Nick’s bumptious father and taken up salsa dancing. She neither remembers nor recognizes her three children, each given a distinct if slightly too cute personality. Nor does she know what to make of the perfectly nice boyfriend Alice-at-39 has acquired. As memory gradually returns, Alice-at-29 initially misinterprets the scattered images and flashes of emotion, especially those concerning Gina, a woman who evidently caused the rift with Nick. Alice-at-29 assumes Gina was Nick’s mistress, only to discover that Gina was her best friend. Gina died in a freak car accident and in her honor, Alice-at-39 has organized mothers from the kids’ school to bake the largest lemon meringue pie on record. But Alice-at-29 senses that Gina may not have been a completely positive influence. Moriarty handles the two Alice consciousnesses with finesse and also delves into infertility issues through Elizabeth’s diary.

Cheerfully engaging.

Pub Date: June 2, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-399-15718-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Amy Einhorn/Putnam

Review Posted Online: April 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2011

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