An intriguing, sometimes-florid, but fast-paced, novelistic account of a European expedition into the wilds of Tibet by an...

Race to Tibet

Schiller (Spy Island, 2013, etc.) fictionalizes the voyage of an ill-fated and little-known French party to Tibet during the 1890s.

Insatiable French explorer Gabriel Bonvalot burns to mount an expedition to Tibet to enter the mysterious city of Lhasa, where no Westerner has ever been. Even the intrepid Russian-Polish trekker Nikolai Prejevalsky fails to reach the fabled city that Tibet has declared off-limits to Europeans, and his travels even eventually cost him his life. One problem plagues Bonvalot in carrying out his improbable plan: he lacks the financial wherewithal to organize such an ambitious venture. To the rescue comes the Duke of Chartres, whose noisome and mischievous wastrel son, Prince Henri, has made a distraction of himself through his wanton ways. Bonvalot promises the Duke to take Henri along for the ride in exchange for the Duke’s fiscal backing. Despite Bonvalot’s protests, the winsome Camille Dancourt wants to find her long-vanished husband, lost somewhere in Tibet. The self-assured Dancourt joins this unlikely crew as it plods ever farther and higher into the thin Tibetan air that makes the hapless band increasingly sick. In addition to battling nature, Bonvalot finds himself tormented by Prejevalsky’s ghost, which appears at inauspicious moments. He doesn’t know whether the ghastly specter is caused by his own mental instability or if the phantom actually exists. Brooklyn author Schiller, an apt storyteller, spins out the many exploits, the gnawing hunger, and the searing cold that befall the adventurers and their companions, including the colorful Belgian missionary Father Dedeken, as they wander deep into the far reaches of the Tibetan hinterlands. In one episode, the group gets caught in an avalanche that is a “dash close for comfort,” says the French prince, sounding for all the world like a posh English chap. This cultural sleight of hand works, though, and Schiller evokes the Victorian era and its explorer ethos through a tale that in style and design should prove compelling to the historical fiction fan.

An intriguing, sometimes-florid, but fast-paced, novelistic account of a European expedition into the wilds of Tibet by an accomplished thriller and historical adventure writer.

Pub Date: Jan. 14, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-25409-7

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Tradewinds Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s...

HOME FRONT

 The traumatic homecoming of a wounded warrior.

The daughter of alcoholics who left her orphaned at 17, Jolene “Jo” Zarkades found her first stable family in the military: She’s served over two decades, first in the army, later with the National Guard. A helicopter pilot stationed near Seattle, Jo copes as competently at home, raising two daughters, Betsy and Lulu, while trying to dismiss her husband Michael’s increasing emotional distance. Jo’s mettle is sorely tested when Michael informs her flatly that he no longer loves her. Four-year-old Lulu clamors for attention while preteen Betsy, mean-girl-in-training, dismisses as dweeby her former best friend, Seth, son of Jo’s confidante and fellow pilot, Tami. Amid these challenges comes the ultimate one: Jo and Tami are deployed to Iraq. Michael, with the help of his mother, has to take over the household duties, and he rapidly learns that parenting is much harder than his wife made it look. As Michael prepares to defend a PTSD-afflicted veteran charged with Murder I for killing his wife during a dissociative blackout, he begins to understand what Jolene is facing and to revisit his true feelings for her. When her helicopter is shot down under insurgent fire, Jo rescues Tami from the wreck, but a young crewman is killed. Tami remains in a coma and Jo, whose leg has been amputated, returns home to a difficult rehabilitation on several fronts. Her nightmares in which she relives the crash and other horrors she witnessed, and her pain, have turned Jo into a person her daughters now fear (which in the case of bratty Betsy may not be such a bad thing). Jo can't forgive Michael for his rash words. Worse, she is beginning to remind Michael more and more of his homicide client. Characterization can be cursory: Michael’s earlier callousness, left largely unexplained, undercuts the pathos of his later change of heart. 

Less bleak than the subject matter might warrant—Hannah’s default outlook is sunny—but still, a wrenching depiction of war’s aftermath.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-312-57720-9

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Dec. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2012

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