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THE PAINTED BRIDGE

Melodrama that borders on over-ripeness but that can be quite delicious.

British journalist Wallace’s first novel concerns a young Victorian-era woman placed in a private mental asylum by her husband for questionable reasons.

Twenty-four year old Anna and priggish Reverend Vincent Palmer have been entered in a mutual marriage of convenience for only seven months when he forcibly installs her at Lake House, a run-down private mental hospital outside London. Anna has provoked her husband by leaving him for five days to tend shipwrecked sailors without telling him beforehand. Does he genuinely think she suffers from hysteria as the asylum’s grossly inattentive doctor agrees, or is he simply punishing her for a lack of submission? In either case, while Anna’s journey was impulsive and tied to haunting visions she can’t escape, she clearly does not deserve to be at Lake House, which offers little in the way of real help for its inmates. Owned by Querios Abse, who lives on-site with his unhappy but oddly sympathetic family, Lake House warehouses women whose families don’t know what else to do with them; Anna soon befriends erudite Talitha Batt, whose “insanity” had to do with falling in love with a non-Christian. Anna also befriends Abse’s teenage daughter Catherine, who has passions and secrets of her own, and she poses for Dr. Lukas St. Clair, a visiting idealistic who believes photographing patients may lead to a breakthrough in treating mental illness by seeing into their minds. With Catherine’s help, Anna escapes Lake House long enough to learn a shocking secret about Vincent, but her sense of responsibility for the adolescent sends her back to Lake House where Abse, in a fit of paternal vengeance—he mistakenly believes Anna has led Catherine astray—comes close to breaking her spirit for good. A decidedly Dickensian flavor infuses the novel, both in style and in emphasis on Victorian social issues, and its lively cast of supporting characters includes caricatures of evil as well as painfully nuanced portrayals of moral complexity.

Melodrama that borders on over-ripeness but that can be quite delicious.

Pub Date: July 17, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6082-1

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 23, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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ABSOLUTE POWER

The mother of all presidential cover-ups is the centerpiece gimmick in this far-fetched thriller from first-novelist Baldacci, a Washington-based attorney. In the dead of night, while burgling an exurban Virginia mansion, career criminal Luther Whitney is forced to conceal himself in a walk-in closet when Christine Sullivan, the lady of the house, arrives in the bedroom he's ransacking with none other than Alan Richmond, President of the US. Through the one-way mirror, Luther watches the drunken couple engage in a bout of rough sex that gets out of hand, ending only when two Secret Service men respond to the Chief Executive's cries of distress and gun down the letter-opener-wielding Christy. Gloria Russell, Richmond's vaultingly ambitious chief of staff, orders the scene rigged to look like a break-in and departs with the still befuddled President, leaving Christy's corpse to be discovered at another time. Luther makes tracks as well, though not before being spotted on the run by agents from the bodyguard detail. Aware that he's shortened his life expectancy, Luther retains trusted friend Jack Graham, a former public defender, but doesn't tell him the whole story. When Luther's slain before he can be arraigned for Christy's murder, Jack concludes he's the designated fall guy in a major scandal. Meanwhile, little Gloria (together with two Secret Service shooters) hopes to erase all tracks that might lead to the White House. But the late Luther seems to have outsmarted her in advance with recurrent demands for hush money. The body count rises as Gloria's attack dogs and Jack search for the evidence cunning Luther's left to incriminate not only a venal Alan Richmond but his homicidal deputies. The not-with-a-bang-but-a-whimper climax provides an unsurprising answer to the question of whether a US president can get away with murder. For all its arresting premise, an overblown and tedious tale of capital sins. (Film rights to Castle Rock; Book-of-the-Month selection)

Pub Date: Jan. 18, 1996

ISBN: 0-446-51996-0

Page Count: 480

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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THE SECRET HISTORY

The Brat Pack meets The Bacchae in this precious, way-too-long, and utterly unsuspenseful town-and-gown murder tale. A bunch of ever-so-mandarin college kids in a small Vermont school are the eager epigones of an aloof classics professor, and in their exclusivity and snobbishness and eagerness to please their teacher, they are moved to try to enact Dionysian frenzies in the woods. During the only one that actually comes off, a local farmer happens upon them—and they kill him. But the death isn't ruled a murder—and might never have been if one of the gang—a cadging sybarite named Bunny Corcoran—hadn't shown signs of cracking under the secret's weight. And so he too is dispatched. The narrator, a blank-slate Californian named Richard Pepen chronicles the coverup. But if you're thinking remorse-drama, conscience masque, or even semi-trashy who'll-break-first? page-turner, forget it: This is a straight gee-whiz, first-to-have-ever-noticed college novel—"Hampden College, as a body, was always strangely prone to hysteria. Whether from isolation, malice, or simple boredom, people there were far more credulous and excitable than educated people are generally thought to be, and this hermetic, overheated atmosphere made it a thriving black petri dish of melodrama and distortion." First-novelist Tartt goes muzzy when she has to describe human confrontations (the murder, or sex, or even the ping-ponging of fear), and is much more comfortable in transcribing aimless dorm-room paranoia or the TV shows that the malefactors anesthetize themselves with as fate ticks down. By telegraphing the murders, Tartt wants us to be continually horrified at these kids—while inviting us to semi-enjoy their manneristic fetishes and refined tastes. This ersatz-Fitzgerald mix of moralizing and mirror-looking (Jay McInerney shook and poured the shaker first) is very 80's—and in Tartt's strenuous version already seems dated, formulaic. Les Nerds du Mal—and about as deep (if not nearly as involving) as a TV movie.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 1992

ISBN: 1400031702

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1992

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