A sublime tale that makes its alpine setting uncanny, terrifying, and captivating.

IN THIS DELICIOUS GARDEN

OR LES ENFANTS DU PARADIS

In this debut novel, a valley in France where tourists flock possesses a darkly bizarre history, including mysterious disappearances.

During Chamonix’s annual Ultra Trail du Mont Blanc, American runner Cody spots several monkeys. As primates don’t typically live in France, he assumes he’s hallucinating. But Swede and fellow runner Harry “Nils” Nilsson has seen monkeys as well, and a local legend claims they were part of a plane crash in the Alps decades ago. When it later appears Cody has gone to verify the monkeys’ existence, Nils undertakes a treacherous climb to find him. Tourists to the alpine town, primarily skiers and climbers, sometimes vanish without much in the way of explanation. Some attribute these disappearances to animals kept by Eloise, an elderly local woman—creatures so frightening the townsfolk insist they wear bells so people can hear them when they’re close. But humans, too, can be menacing. Nicolas, for one, who’s spent many years in Chamonix as a pornographic filmmaker, ultimately develops such a disdain for tourists that he takes drastic measures. While locals are wary of outsiders, they may stand up for a family of Iraqi refugees when a political party is intent on pushing its anti-immigration policies. Divided by season into four parts, this novel assembles a colorful cast of characters. Though the spotlight continually shifts, there’s cohesion, as players consistently appear even when not the narrative focus. Pietras offers a smartly scripted tale that’s rich in historical significance, including a flashback to the World War II era, and discernible but nuanced themes, particularly an environmental message. The story’s surrealism stems predominantly from instances—generally hints—of the animals in the Alps. While some elucidation, like a potential origin for the monkeys, gears the story toward realism, it doesn’t make the creature encounters or periodic deaths any less unsettling.

A sublime tale that makes its alpine setting uncanny, terrifying, and captivating. (collage-style map, collages, author’s note, acknowledgements, list of sources, author bio)

Pub Date: March 1, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73444-660-9

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Mediastopheles LLC

Review Posted Online: April 28, 2020

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Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

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MATRIX

Set in early medieval Europe, this book paints a rousing portrait of an abbess seizing and holding power.

After the spicy, structurally innovative Fates and Furies (2015), Groff spins back 850 years to a girl on a horse: “She rides out of the forest alone. Seventeen years old, in the cold March drizzle, Marie who comes from France.” The inspiration is a historical figure, Marie de France, considered the first woman to write poetry in French. Groff gives her a fraught, lifelong, sexually charged tie to Eleanor of Aquitaine. A matrix, which comes from the Latin for mother, builds implacably between Eleanor and Marie. But in the first chapter, the queen rids the court of an ungainly, rustic Marie by installing her in a remote English convent, home to 20 starving nuns. The sisters hang the traveler’s clothes in the communal privy, where “the ammonia of the piss kills the beasties”—the lice. After a long sulk, Marie rouses herself to examine the abbey’s disastrous ledgers, mount her warhorse, and gallop forth to turn out the family most egregiously squatting on convent land. News spreads and the rents come in, “some grumbling but most half proud to have a woman so tough and bold and warlike and royal to answer to now.” The novel is at its best through Marie's early years of transforming the ruined, muddy convent, bit by bit, into a thriving estate, with a prosperous new scriptorium, brimming fields, and spilling flocks, protected by a forest labyrinth and spies abroad. In this way, Marie forestalls the jealous priests and village men plotting against her. Readers of Arcadia (2012), Groff’s brilliantly evocative hippie commune novel, will remember her gift for conjuring life without privacy. And she knows a snake always lurks within Eden. The cloister witnesses lust, sex, pregnancy, peril. Marie has visions of the Virgin Mary, 19 in all, but these passages stay flat. Medieval mystics, unsurprisingly, write better about mysticism. The gesture toward a lost theology based on Marie’s visions amounts to weak tea.

Groff’s trademarkworthy sentences bring vivid buoyancy to a magisterial story.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59463-449-9

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2021

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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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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