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It’s bizarre, wacky, and broad—but highly entertaining, especially for fans of the Vonnegut/DFW school of the absurd.

A beguiling, idiosyncratic exercise in postmodern bafflement by the late artist/novelist Herrndorf (Why We Took the Car, 2014, etc.), awarded the Leipzig Book Fair Prize for it in 2012.

Somewhere along the coastal desert of northwestern Africa—Herrndorf isn’t specific, but it’s a former French colony, so perhaps Mali—four disaffected foreigners living in a commune have been killed in a murder whose payoff is a basket of fruit and a wicker suitcase full of an unknown currency. The case draws attention: There’s an American woman “best seen from afar”—no surprise that her last name and hotel room add up to the moniker of a far-distant star—and a Swedish double agent with nuclear secrets to sell. Then there are two cops assigned to the case, one of them a Frenchman who took the gig to get away from a girlfriend in Paris and who “didn’t have a clue about Africa.” He worries that he doesn’t have a clue about much of anything, since he scored lower on an intelligence test than his partner, who’s dumb enough to bring about his own demise thanks to a miscalculation having to do with the political influence of the prime suspect. Then there’s the guy whose head was bashed in and wanders in from the desert, an amnesiac, apparently well connected enough to international plots of derring-do that the Stasi, the CIA, and a sinister pseudo-psychiatrist are after him. Electrical shocks ensue, whereupon the amnesiac “talked about everything he knew, and he talked about the things he didn’t know, too.” In this rollicking shaggy-cum-sandy dog of a tale, no one knows much of anything, save that the badder the bad guy the more reliable the information. Herrndorf, it seems, had trouble deciding what this story would be—a satire? a spy novel? a thriller? Suffice it to say that if you mashed up the Ian Fleming of Casino Royale with Tin Drum–era Günter Grass and threw in a little Paul Bowles for leavening, you might get something approaching this concoction.

It’s bizarre, wacky, and broad—but highly entertaining, especially for fans of the Vonnegut/DFW school of the absurd.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-68137-201-3

Page Count: 464

Publisher: New York Review Books

Review Posted Online: April 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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