Family ties are both a curse and a blessing in the latest novel from Byers (Bent Coin, 2012, etc).
Jakob Kellermann IV always loathed the family business, a small but successful brewery which kept his parents focused on money and left him isolated in a forbidding home. The pages of histories became his escape and remained so right through college, where he began down a path toward a quiet academic life. But life—or, more accurately, his parents—had different plans, and upon graduation he found himself saddled instead with the responsibility of taking over leadership of the brewery. The unexpected loss of his father, coupled with a few well-placed legal traps courtesy of his mother, thrust him into sudden confrontations with a host of dark family secrets, including those surrounding the brewery’s operations during Prohibition. Now a union wants to organize his workers, someone has murdered his head of security, and the dishonorable decisions made in decades past are threatening to blow up into a costly criminal scandal. All Jakob and his new wife, Sophie, want is to revive the goodwill and success of the company’s glory days—and with enough speed to enable them to return to their previous plans. To do that, though, they’ll have to confront and address their own shortcomings, all while giving themselves over to the task of understanding a legacy they were initially happy to reject. The exploration of whiskey distillation, particularly in the Prohibition era, is enough to lend the novel considerable credibility. Byers’ narrative is intelligently developed and shows painstaking research and emotional sensitivity. There are occasional moments when the prose becomes a bit slack, but as a whole, it’s a well-wrought attention-holder.
An intricately drawn family saga.