A grand immersion in the past.

The lure of the wilderness proves irresistible for a young trapper in this glorious American frontier novel, Burke’s (Black Flies, 2008, etc.) third.

In 1826, civilization ends in St. Louis; beyond is the vast expanse of the prairie. William Wyeth sees in it an invitation. The 22-year-old is looking for adventure, and the fur trade is booming. Wyeth joins a brigade bound for the western mountains, where they will set traps for beaver and muskrat and return with their pelts. The season is interrupted when Wyeth is felled by friendly fire during a buffalo hunt. The incident shatters Wyeth’s illusion that he’s immortal, but his spirits are restored by his fellow trappers’ camaraderie. Recuperating at a U.S. Army encampment, Wyeth meets Alene Chevalier, a part native French-Canadian tanner. After the trapper has another near-death experience, they fall in love, but Wyeth is not ready for domesticity quite yet. The St. Louis dandy Henry Layton is forming a new brigade and offers Wyeth a stake in it. Layton is a complex figure, marvelously well-observed. A bit of a scoundrel, battling his own demons, he is undeniably charismatic. Both Layton and Wyeth will learn that “[t]here is little that ails a man…that is not improved by a season in the mountains.” The second expedition, this one on Crow lands (Layton has negotiated a treaty), is all ups and downs. The overbearing Layton risks a mutiny, but the trappers rally behind him when he fearlessly confronts a British brigade leader. Borders are vague and the expansionist Brits, not the natives, are the enemy. The trappers harvest a record number of pelts, but safe passage back is far from assured. Burke includes fine episodes of derring-do, two involving bears, and there is a thrilling climax, but character is his overriding interest, the way it’s shaped by tests of endurance in magnificent, alien landscapes.

A grand immersion in the past.

Pub Date: Feb. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-307-90892-6

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: Aug. 23, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014


Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014


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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