A smart and engaging what-if that has the virtue of being plausible—and the added virtue of not having been written by Bill...

THE IMPEACHMENT OF ABRAHAM LINCOLN

Law professor turned novelist Carter (The Emperor of Ocean Park, 2002, etc.) waxes counterfactual—and sometimes piles historical nonfacts to dizzying heights.

Yes, the counterfactuals sometimes threaten to suffocate the real matters here; as Carter, who cheerfully admits to much invention, writes, “None of this was true, but all of it was in the newspapers.” The overriding counterfactuality here concerns a historical chestnut: Honest Abe warred on the Constitution when he suspended habeas corpus and effectively put the Union under a state of martial law. The act earned him the label of tyrant in his time—and in Carter’s pages, with pro-Confederate sympathizers and staunch Unionists alike rising up in protest. As Carter’s tale opens, Lincoln has indeed been assassinated—almost. Shot on Good Friday, he rises from the near-dead on Easter Sunday, Christlike. “Across the country, people cheered,” writes Carter, with much portent. “Those who felt otherwise kept their disappointment to themselves, content to bide their time.” Those numerous disappointed types include more than a few traitors and insurrectionists, some deep within the bowels of a government still riven by the late unpleasantness of the Civil War. But who are the bad guys, and who mere celebrants of the First Amendment? Since Lincoln is alive and well in Carter’s telling, it would be uncivil to ponder the implausibility of his choice of heroine, a young, fearless and brilliant African-American named Abigail Canner, who, fresh from Oberlin, is determined to expose the real engine driving the plot to turn the Great Emancipator out of office—and it’s not all the doing of the juicily bad character called the Lion of Louisiana, either. Fans of secret codes will enjoy watching the mind of Abigail’s legal-eagle sidekick at work, and Abigail herself makes for a grandly entertaining sleuth.

A smart and engaging what-if that has the virtue of being plausible—and the added virtue of not having been written by Bill O’Reilly, so that the real facts are actually facts.

Pub Date: July 10, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-95840-2

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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CIRCE

A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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