WALLFLOWER

Always an inventive suspense-writer, Bayer outwits himself here with a fractured, Rube Goldberg-like thriller that pits the cop-hero of his first big seller (Switch, 1984) against an unlikely serial killer. As before, middle-aged NYPD homicide detective Frank Janek proves a most winsome protagonist, valiant yet vulnerable. And as in Blind Side and Pattern Crimes, Bayer starts seductively, with a moving prelude that highlights Janek's humanity as the cop takes his first vacation in ten years, in Venice, and falls in love with a German tourist. Janek's idyll is shattered by a phone call informing him that his beloved goddaughter Jess has been slain- -latest victim of a serial killer wanted by the FBI. Trading on old debts, Janek gets assigned to the case as an FBI adjunct (solid detailing of FBI-NYPD rivalry here); his inspired investigation uncovers dread secrets (e.g., that Jess had joined a sex-club) but also a prime suspect: Jess's therapist, man-hating Beverly Archer. However, while breaking into Archer's home for clues, Janek is near-fatally wounded by one of Beverly's patients, a convicted murderess whose room yields strong evidence of her guilt as the serial killer. So far, so brilliant; this is Bayer at his most suspenseful and resonant—but then the narrative veers into overplotted excess, as Bayer reconstructs the genesis and execution of the killings from Archer's point of view (in a shrill, unconvincing voice), and then from that of the murderess, who turns out to have been programmed by Archer to avenge past shames. And when the narrative returns to Janek, his trapping of Archer involves a ploy so far-fetched and a denouement so poetically just as to defy credulity. So: by turns enthralling and just plain silly—a spirited but strained miscalculation by an author who more often than not has been right on the mark.

Pub Date: July 1, 1991

ISBN: 0-679-40047-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1991

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An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

THE AUTHENTICITY PROJECT

A group of strangers who live near each other in London become fast friends after writing their deepest secrets in a shared notebook.

Julian Jessop, a septuagenarian artist, is bone-crushingly lonely when he starts “The Authenticity Project”—as he titles a slim green notebook—and begins its first handwritten entry questioning how well people know each other in his tiny corner of London. After 15 years on his own mourning the loss of his beloved wife, he begins the project with the aim that whoever finds the little volume when he leaves it in a cafe will share their true self with their own entry and then pass the volume on to a stranger. The second person to share their inner selves in the notebook’s pages is Monica, 37, owner of a failing cafe and a former corporate lawyer who desperately wants to have a baby. From there the story unfolds, as the volume travels to Thailand and back to London, seemingly destined to fall only into the hands of people—an alcoholic drug addict, an Australian tourist, a social media influencer/new mother, etc.—who already live clustered together geographically. This is a glossy tale where difficulties and addictions appear and are overcome, where lies are told and then forgiven, where love is sought and found, and where truths, once spoken, can set you free. Secondary characters, including an interracial gay couple, appear with their own nuanced parts in the story. The message is strong, urging readers to get off their smartphones and social media and live in the real, authentic world—no chain stores or brands allowed here—making friends and forming a real-life community and support network. And is that really a bad thing?

An enjoyable, cozy novel that touches on tough topics.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-7861-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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