Engaging food for thought for Austen fans.


Lord Moira's Echo

Bennett (The Perfect Visit, 2011), in his second work of historical fiction, explores Francis Rawdon-Hastings’ relationship to a young Jane Austen and her effect on him well after her death.

In a story that jumps back and forth between 1801 and 1823, Hastings—a real man known as Lord Moira from age 40 to his early 60s—was taken by two young, awe-inspiring women: Jane Austen and, later, the novel’s fictitious Vanessa Horwood. Austen, the budding British writer, and Horwood, a Canadian musician, share a certain likeness that Lord Moira cannot ignore. While Moira develops feelings for Horwood, her life becomes more entwined with Austen’s. As Moira attempts to mask his past flirtations with Austen, Horwood’s well-being is put at stake. Horwood, who is acquainted with Austen’s siblings, finds herself caught with a dark, secretive financial burden, a downfall of the Austen family that author Bennett embellishes for dramatic effect. With scholarly knowledge of Austen’s life and works, Bennett uses what little the world knows of Austen’s young life to his advantage and inserts some cleverly written pieces to the unfinished puzzle. Although unlikely, there’s a chance Moira and Austen may have shared an intimate connection during these years, and Bennett offers hypothetical explanations behind Austen’s earlier works and her mysterious personal life. Austen fans searching for another intriguing though debatable theory will find plenty to sift through here. Austen neophytes, however, will most likely need to conduct some additional research to appreciate this historical fiction that has hints of fan fiction. The cumbersome cast of characters, some real, some imagined, would be easier to digest with some previous knowledge of Austen’s life and works. Nevertheless, dialogue between characters is often captivating, and the book reads splendidly.

Engaging food for thought for Austen fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2014

ISBN: 978-1494475192

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2014

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.


Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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