Economical and deliberately low-key, like all O’Nan’s work, but the complex moral issues it raises linger unsettlingly.

CITY OF SECRETS

The protean O’Nan (West of Sunset, 2015, etc.) assumes the mantle of Conrad and Greene in a probing, keening thriller set in Jerusalem just after World War II.

Brand, a Latvian Jew, lost his entire family in the Holocaust and is haunted by the passivity with which he watched fellow inmates tortured and killed in the camps. Determined not to be a victim again, he has come to Jerusalem and joined Haganah, one of several resistance groups determined to oust the British from Palestine and establish a Jewish state. Brand’s cover job is driving a taxi, and one of his tasks is to ferry fellow cell member Eva to assignations as a prostitute, through which she gathers information. In their off-hours the pair are lovers, which fills Brand with guilt for betraying his murdered wife. He’s not totally at ease, either, with his cell’s bombings and armed robberies, particularly when Haganah joins forces with the more violently radical Irgun “after calling them dissidents and terrorists and helping the British hunt them down.” The ironies echoing down to today’s Jerusalem are evident, although O’Nan stays meticulously within his 1945-6 framework. As soon as Brand starts taking Eva to the King David Hotel for repeated trysts, even readers unfamiliar with Middle Eastern history will sense that apocalyptic events are impending. When they arrive, in the novel’s grim climax, they make palpable the dilemma of O’Nan’s conflicted protagonist: “He wanted the revolution—like the world—to be innocent, when it had never been.” Though rigorously unsentimental, the text seethes with unresolved emotions, as when Brand celebrates a solitary Passover, missing Eva and pierced by memories of his dead parents and sister. He’s heartbreakingly lonely and appealingly ambivalent in a world where too many people are certain the righteousness of their cause justifies any action.

Economical and deliberately low-key, like all O’Nan’s work, but the complex moral issues it raises linger unsettlingly.

Pub Date: April 26, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-670-78596-4

Page Count: 208

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A must-read if you want a glimpse of the turmoil Americans faced in Afghanistan or if you just want a page-flipping good...

THE VALLEY

From a first-time novelist, a military thriller packed with action and mystery.

The story begins and ends with relative quiet, but the reader hungry for action need not worry. Lt. Black is stationed at the relatively safe Forward Operating Base Omaha in Afghanistan when he gets randomly assigned a 15-6 investigation, “the commander’s initial inquiry into possible wrongdoing.” Apparently, an Afghan village chief in Nuristan complained that an American soldier accidentally killed a goat. Black’s job is to fly to Combat Outpost Vega “up the Valley” and speak to everyone, gather facts about the apparently minor case and report back to headquarters. Once Black arrives, most of the soldiers refuse to talk to him, and the NCOs are openly hostile and disrespectful. They are rough people in a rough place. There are many valleys in Nuristan “where people died hard deaths,” but “there was only one Valley….It was the farthest, the hardest, and the worst.” Surrounded by the lurking Taliban and aggrieved villagers all close by, the American soldiers (and readers) are guaranteed all the excitement they can handle. Never what it had seemed in the first place, the situation deteriorates rapidly. The combat scenes are intense, believable and frightening. The troops need to call for help, but will they get through? “Communication was life,” the narrator notes as the Americans try to fight off an attack, and “there was no pay phone in the Valley.” “What the hell,” one character asks, “is the end of the world?” Clearly, it’s the Valley in Nuristan. There are a few points of confusion in this fast-paced drama, but whether that’s in the telling, the reading or the fog of war, they detract little. 

A must-read if you want a glimpse of the turmoil Americans faced in Afghanistan or if you just want a page-flipping good yarn.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-525-95486-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: Jan. 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Gradually, globe-hopping flights and substitutions of a hilariously unconvincing forgery for the real van Gogh start to take...

FALSE IMPRESSION

Now that he’s completed his trilogy of prison diaries (2003–05), Lord Archer, out on the street again, returns to his old habits with this tale of a disgraced art expert’s attempt to thwart her villainous banker boss’s plot to fleece a fine old English family of van Gogh’s Self-portrait with Bandaged Ear.

The morning after Lady Victoria Wentworth has her throat cut before she can follow Dr. Anna Petrescu’s advice about selling off her van Gogh to cover her debt to Fenston Finance, Bryce Fenston fires Anna for offering the advice. Getting sacked is the best thing that could have happened to her, because while she’s waiting for an elevator to take her down to the first floor of the World Trade Center for the last time, the building is rocked by a fiery explosion. Yes, it’s 9/11, and while Archer is using the disaster as colorful background, Anna’s taking advantage of the chaos to disappear, presumed dead. She plans to fly to England and ask Arabella Wentworth, Victoria’s twin and heir, to help her steal the canvas, now technically Fenston’s property, before Fenston’s lieutenant, disbarred lawyer Karl Leapman, can pick it up. Knowing that a terrorist bombing goes only so far, Archer (Sons of Fortune, 2003, etc.) ladles on extra complications. An FBI agent who’s had his eye on Fenston gets on Anna’s trail. Her phone calls to her friend Tina Forster, Fenston’s assistant, puts her irate ex-boss close behind. The knife-wielding assassin who killed Victoria Wentworth goes after Anna as well.

Gradually, globe-hopping flights and substitutions of a hilariously unconvincing forgery for the real van Gogh start to take the place of plot developments, and somewhere between Bucharest and London, most of the suspense evaporates, though there are still a hundred pages left to run.

Pub Date: March 7, 2006

ISBN: 0-312-35372-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2005

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet