An often by-the-numbers political thriller that finds its vigor through its use of all-too-recent American history.

CODE OF HONOR

Weeks’ debut novel follows a single soldier in a fictionalized version of the United States’ 2002 march to war in Iraq.

U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Hank Siemens, after being injured attempting to capture Osama bin Laden, is reassigned to Ouvda air base in Israel—an uneventful post where he must deal with far too many brusque, private military contractors. One such encounter involves a suspicious shipment of aluminum tubing, which unbeknownst to him, has ties to men at the highest levels of the United States government. President Hedge, Vice President Beale and Secretary of Defense Ares—transparent analogues to George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld, respectively—need those tubes to be “captured” on their way into Iraq, so that they can expand their war on terror. U.S. Sen. Paul Whitman of Minnesota stands against the administration, backed by Hank’s father, the cancer-stricken Gen. Thomas Siemens, whose own investigation suggests that Iraq has no means to build weapons of mass destruction. When the general dies, only Hank can help the senator—even if saving his country means defying direct orders. Weeks’ debut is a classic story of a man who can choose not to act and reap the rewards of the war-mongers’ spoils, or risk everything by following the righteous examples of his father and Sen. Whitman. The villains are fairly simplistic, depicted as over-the-top, even comically vile, making Hank’s decision seem obvious. But the heroes’ shortcomings ground the novel, with their flaws so closely tied to their greatest strength: the ideal of honor through service. There’s little action here, which is surprising, as the book opens with a firefight. Instead, Weeks chooses to convey most events before and after they occur, through long, exposition-laden conversations. These are made palatable, however, thanks to their charmingly contrasting settings, from darkened White House offices, to bright, outdoor political gatherings. The novel’s slow reveal as an alternate history is cleverly disarming, and the realization that this version of the United States might escape the fate of the real one gives the plot an extra charge of urgency.

An often by-the-numbers political thriller that finds its vigor through its use of all-too-recent American history.

Pub Date: March 12, 2014

ISBN: 978-0991598908

Page Count: 336

Publisher: 99 Percent Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 24, 2014

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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