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Bruni writes dark passages and playful moments with equal aplomb. The world is her oyster.

Spider-Man lore is one layer of this superbly suspenseful first novel about two loners, improbable lawbreakers, on a mission to Chicago. 

How do you get out of Iowa? Sheila Gower would love to know. Bored silly by her family and hometown, the high school senior fantasizes about immigrating to Paris before her French teacher discourages her. The solution is one of the regulars at the gas station where she works the swing shift. Peter Parker (Spider-Man’s “real” name) is a cabdriver in his mid-20s and is clearly attracted to her. Sheila learns from her research that Spider-Man was unable to save his first girlfriend, Gwen Stacy, from the villainous Green Goblin. But when Peter shows her a gun at the station, suggesting they fake a kidnapping, empty the cash register and drive to Chicago, daredevil Sheila is up for it. Peter’s story reveals him as more victim than creep. He was only 6 when his much older brother committed suicide, an overdose. Seeking escape, Peter immersed himself in the Spider-Man books; his mother, sensing his trauma, let him assume Spider-Man’s name. Peter’s not crazy; he knows he lacks superhuman powers, but he does have premonitions in his dreams, and when a recurrent dream features the gas-station girl, a gun (found in his mother’s underwear drawer) and Chicago, he swings into action. Bruni does a masterful job evoking their world, equal parts fantasy and reality and further skewed by a downtown Chicago that’s been invaded by coyotes. Their chemistry changes as they become mutually dependent lovers and Sheila, no dummy, realizes that Peter’s plan—to rescue a man haunting his dreams—is no plan at all. When push comes to shove, and the fugitives are in danger of exposure, it is Sheila/Gwen’s quick thinking that saves them. Is Bruni steering us toward Gwen’s rendezvous with destiny or something more reality-based? She keeps readers guessing as the plot twists and turns. 

Bruni writes dark passages and playful moments with equal aplomb. The world is her oyster.

Pub Date: July 2, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-547-89816-2

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: April 15, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2013

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The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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