An eerie and surprising reconstruction by an unreliable narrator.

THE SCAPEGOAT

In this unnervingly good debut, Davis’ narrator pieces together details of his father’s death.

N is an employee at a prestigious San Francisco Bay Area university. “As a rule…,” he says, “I preferred not to involve myself in university gossip, or department politics, aware, without regret, that I had chosen for myself a somewhat lonely stance.” N’s father has recently died, and the circumstances surrounding his father’s death nag at him, invading his waking and sleeping hours. “The more I considered them, the stranger they seemed,” he says. When he happens upon a connection between his father and a hotel built over the site of a former California mission, the investigation begins to consume his life. He encounters a female guest lecturer who might have some answers, yet she tells him that his current actions are “not the right sequence of events.” N’s dreams become a robust portion of the narrative, as do his affinity for Swedish crime novels and classical music and a fraught relationship with a young female colleague. His daytime hours take on a soporific quality. Underscoring N’s search for answers is the haunting idea that the hotel, like so much of California’s celebrated history, is built on the destruction of the state’s Native population. It is, as one character says, “like making a hotel out of Auschwitz.” As N tries to piece together clues, his vision of what he’s pursuing becomes increasingly cloudy: “Don’t, I told myself, lose the thread.” He loses trust in a clear sequence of events. “Not everything is connected, I thought, weary of myself.” The tension of the novel builds to delirious heights, and he gets closer to answers about the death he’s been trying to reconstruct, yet he struggles with his memory and his ability to stay alert. “How did people do it? I wondered. How did they insert themselves into the present?”

An eerie and surprising reconstruction by an unreliable narrator.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-3741-8145-1

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Nov. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 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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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: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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