A tale filled with rascally derring-do that could have worked better as a graphic novel.

THE EMERALD STORM

The 19th-century role that a 21st-century Errol Flynn would be born to play.

The fifth historical novel in the Ethan Gage series leaves no swash unbuckled. Though Dietrich (The Barbary Pirates, 2010, etc.) is a college professor who previously shared a Pulitzer Prize for reporting, with this series he is more interested in entertaining than educating. An American and an adventurer, Gage here casts his lot at various turns with the French, the English and a band of Caribbean slaves turned revolutionaries, as he searches for a lost treasure of Aztec myth. Though he announces early on that, “I was more than ready to trade heroism for domesticity. My preference is lover, not fighter. No one tries harder to escape adventure than me, Ethan Gage,” there wouldn’t be much of a novel if he had stuck to such resolve. Yes, he has married the voluptuous, ravishing Astiza, his lover from previous novels, and the two are raising a 3-year old son. Yet he has come into possession of a stolen and extravagant emerald, which could ensure his wealth and secure their future, only to see the jewel snatched by a renegade French policeman who kidnaps their son in the process. So it’s love as well as lucre that drives Gage to recover the jewel, and to employ his wife in her seductive temptress role at pivotal points along the way. “Plain women are more devoted, older ones are more appreciative, but I, too, have an eye for beauty—it’s a fault of mine—and I knew I had to defend the woman I’d married,” muses Gage, after such trickery has imperiled his wife while inflaming his jealousy. Ultimately, the plot finds double-crossing leading to triple-crossing, as the emerald turns out to be merely the tip of an iceberg of lost riches, with Gage and allies who might be enemies conspiring to find it.

A tale filled with rascally derring-do that could have worked better as a graphic novel. 

Pub Date: May 8, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-06-198920-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: March 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2012

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A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

CODE NAME HÉLÈNE

A historical novel explores the intersection of love and war in the life of Australian-born World War II heroine Nancy Grace Augusta Wake.

Lawhon’s (I Was Anastasia, 2018, etc.) carefully researched, lively historical novels tend to be founded on a strategic chronological gambit, whether it’s the suspenseful countdown to the landing of the Hindenberg or the tale of a Romanov princess told backward and forward at once. In her fourth novel, she splits the story of the amazing Nancy Wake, woman of many aliases, into two interwoven strands, both told in first-person present. One begins on Feb. 29th, 1944, when Wake, code-named Hélène by the British Special Operations Executive, parachutes into Vichy-controlled France to aid the troops of the Resistance, working with comrades “Hubert” and “Denden”—two of many vividly drawn supporting characters. “I wake just before dawn with a full bladder and the uncomfortable realization that I am surrounded on all sides by two hundred sex-starved Frenchmen,” she says. The second strand starts eight years earlier in Paris, where Wake is launching a career as a freelance journalist, covering early stories of the Nazi rise and learning to drink with the hardcore journos, her purse-pooch Picon in her lap. Though she claims the dog “will be the great love of [her] life,” she is about to meet the hunky Marseille-based industrialist Henri Fiocca, whose dashing courtship involves French 75 cocktails, unexpected appearances, and a drawn-out seduction. As always when going into battle, even the ones with guns and grenades, Nancy says “I wear my favorite armor…red lipstick.” Both strands offer plenty of fireworks and heroism as they converge to explain all. The author begs forgiveness in an informative afterword for all the drinking and swearing. Hey! No apologies necessary!

A compulsively readable account of a little-known yet extraordinary historical figure—Lawhon’s best book to date.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54468-9

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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