Not all bad by any means, but Dickens’s Tale remains the gold standard, and Alleyn’s bold effort is little more than a pale...

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A FAR BETTER REST

Canned history and muted histrionics are dutifully paraded in this earnest, overlong debut, which retells Dickens’s A Tale of Two Cities from the viewpoint of the improbably heroic Sydney Carton.

He’s remembered as the jaded English attorney who substituted—and sacrificed—himself for his “looking-glass image,” embattled French nobleman Charles Darnay, the beloved husband of (Carton’s secret love) Lucie Manette. In Alleyn’s version, Carton is the disgruntled son of a demanding father who forces him into the practice of law, and further embittered when the first woman he loves leaves him for a wealthier man. While studying in Paris, then on a surprising later occasion, Carton makes the acquaintance of Darnay, a rather passive sort encumbered by a scandalous family history, a trumped-up charge of spying, and eventually a “denunciation” by bloodthirsty Jacobins who are sending royalty, aristocrats, and all suspected “enemies of the [French] Revolution” headlong to the guillotine. Carton, having fled the law and England and returned to Paris, piques our interest as a self-despising wastrel with tendencies toward nobility of spirit; but Alleyn’s potentially striking characterization is subordinated to his inevitable experience or observation of such watershed phenomena as the storming of the Bastille, the murder of revolutionary Jean-Paul Marat and the “Law of Suspects” jerry-rigged to identify supposed “traitors,” as well as Carton’s (varyingly credible) relationships with historical figures Robespierre, Saint-Just, Danton, and Camille Desmoulins. Matters aren’t helped by Alleyn’s breathless prose, particularly her unfortunately high-flown dialogue, a mixture of romantic fustian and exposition-heavy authorial overmanagement. Still, several of her fictional characters strike a few sparks—notably Darnay’s cousin, fiery bluestocking Eleonore d’Ambert, who beds, weds, betrays, and abandons Carton with seemingly equal amounts of enthusiasm and savoir faire.

Not all bad by any means, but Dickens’s Tale remains the gold standard, and Alleyn’s bold effort is little more than a pale imitation of it.

Pub Date: July 14, 2000

ISBN: 1-56947-197-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Soho

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2000

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The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as...

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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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.

ONE GOOD DEED

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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