The prologue introduces low-level, low-brow politician Henry Lewis, who’s interrupted in his back alley business when his intended victim Davie is rescued. Allan Linton fell into the PI business after a newspaper takeover, and he pulled strong, silent street avenger Niddrie in as his “and Associates.” A mysterious man calling himself Carter hires them to find a woman in a photograph whose name is likely an alias. Then dear reader goes through a flashback on the rise and fall of Allan’s marriage to the daughter of a top dollar barrister, then back to the present where his daughter asks his help with the entitled son of her grandfather’s partner and he explains his love for the Hollies. He seeks help on the case from his best friend Michael, who just happens to be the main drug dealer in town, and dear reader goes through another flashback chapter on the origin of their friendship. There are aliases and backstories galore in this novel, with each flashback its own fascinating short story. If you like backstory woven into the fabric of a novel, this format might confound you. The unusual names and behaviors of the characters make this whodunwhat feel a bit out of time and place, like a cheeky noir film. I received a digital copy of this fantastic story from Black & White Publishing Ltd through NetGalley.
Maddie fell hard for Ian, British security detail, when she taught English in Bulgaria and her BFF Joanna was a humanitarian working in Macedonia before and during their civil war. He’s hard to pin down, even after she marries him despite Joanna’s inexplicable hostility toward him. He insists on moving from NYC to her small, Kansas hometown, though he spends much of his time in the Eastern bloc, working in a security business he started with his brother after leaving his government position. The story unfolds in layers as it goes back and forth in time and around the globe to explain the horrible murder. Ward does an excellent job evoking sympathy for Maddie, who appears to be on the receiving end of Ian’s PTSD. This novel portrays young American idealists who get caught up in tragedy, differences in maturity levels of best friends, and how lack of self-awareness contributes to obfuscation, as a mismatched romance leads to its horrifying conclusion. I was fortunate to receive this brilliant story from the publisher Park Row Books through NetGalley.
PI Cormoran Strike and Robin Ellacott share a moment right after her vows to Matthew, coloring their detective partnership. A disturbed young man caroms into Strike’s office to exclaim about a child murder committed decades ago. Being hired by a politician to spy on a colleague distracts them, but the possibility weighs on Cormoran’s mind, as Robin goes undercover in Parliament. The non-case of the wild story becomes entangled within the political investigation and a dubious suicide. Meanwhile, Robin’s husband shows his true colors, but her desire to be independent only prolongs the sexual tension between partners.
Galbraith keeps a fast, at times frenetic, pace throughout the story, with the main characters exasperatingly and credibly human in their complexity. It’s fun to see inside the heads of the good guys when they have fleeting thoughts that are unrealistic / unreasonable, such as when Robin finds herself drawn in by the charm of their client’s tall, dark, and handsome “bad boy” son, a person of interest. Fourth in the Cormoran Strike series, it’s easily a standalone for the case story, but adds layers of nuance to the partnership. The inevitable transition in the nature of the relationship will change the dynamics and sadly may be the beginning of the end, unless Galbraith finds a way to pull it off. Let’s hope she…whoops, “he” can do so!
I received a copy of this latest release in the series from St. Martin’s Press for an honest review.
After Sylvia helps deliver her first baby as an apprentice midwife, Meda, the mother, leaves believing the baby died at the request of the father, her wealthy, white employer. Meda tends to her grief by volunteering at an orphanage, where she takes on the care of two babies and helps raise them. Sylvia assuages her guilt by throwing herself into nursing, obtaining a post at Lazaretto, the first quarantine hospital in the U.S. Though from different socio-economic levels, Sylvia and Meda’s lives brush upon each other slightly throughout the years, though both women are unaware. A wedding party composed of black employees at the Lazaretto is quarantined due to a yellow fever scare. Sylvia must take charge of the ensuing chaos of racial terrorism upon the group on the boat over to the island and deal with white policemen whose purpose is unknown, but who are also quarantined with the wedding party. Meda’s boys end up in the middle and learn the truth of their mother.
McKinney-Whetstone deftly portrays the precarious position of characters in a society that considers them invisible at best, and how they must carefully balance dignity with always a thought toward self-preservation. Though the characters hold their integrity through actions, the dialogue alternates between formal, stiff language without contractions and colloquial dialect, seemingly randomly, and can be distracting from the story. Systemic racism is nearly its own character in the tale, as even refined, strong-willed Sylvia deems it important to pamper the stranded detectives based on their color. Readers of historical fiction, lovers of secrets, and fans of flawed, complex characters will appreciate this novel.
In 1965, time travel ignites Barbara’s manic depression, and the other pioneers—ambitious Margaret, compassionate Lillian, and social butterfly Grace—leave her behind to form The Conclave, an autonomous organization commercializing time travel. Multiple storylines converge to determine the identity of the woman found dead of four bullet wounds in a locked room. The investigation for this unique whodunit plays out in various timelines with characters’ ages often not corresponding chronologically. There’s manipulation, subterfuge, and espionage afoot throughout the nation and throughout time. The time travel details are concrete, with the fuel posing a danger if not handled appropriately. There’s even a time travel glossary included at the end, which makes one try that much harder to buy into the concept. Macarenhas gives the reader glimpses into the thoughts of characters, providing more depth to a story that might easily go astray with so much time-hopping chapters. Readers who like speculative fiction with compelling characters and complex relationships will appreciate this story that readily lends oneself to suspend belief, a realistic time travel story, if you will. It’s definitely worth the time! Ha! I was fortunate to receive a copy from the publisher through Net Galley.
At 17, David witnesses his father’s public assassination for turning state’s witness, his mother collateral damage, his life spared due to spent ammo. He spends decades piecing together evidence to determine the killer’s identity, all while living his life as an NFL quarterback for the Dolphins, a random lover of the famous dancer Sylphide (who lives across the pond from his childhood home) and her protege Emily—introduced by him, and a restaurateur. His sister parcels out relevant information on rare occasions, spending her grief-stricken adulthood playing professional tennis, fighting mental illness, and searching for her parent’s killer against her boyfriend’s pragmatic advice. As Sylphide moves in and out of David’s life, secrets come unmoored and land at his feet every so often. Roorbach has built a fine cast of complex and extraordinary characters, nuanced to the hilt, integrity intact throughout the novel, all maddeningly non-forthcoming for page-turning tension. It can be awkward to follow the timeline back and forth, and David’s discoveries can be out of sync, as when he realizes his sister’s major secret years after his parent’s demise, and then in a following flashback is explicitly told the secret by his sister herself. No opportunity is missed to reference Emily as “the negress”—was that even used as late as the 70s and into the 80s? Her parents could have been a bit more rounded out as individuals instead of representations. These few distractions don’t detract from a unique story with an intriguing storyline and intense meta sex scenes. Roorbach is almost his own genre. He’s the Mainer Carl Hiassen in his dedication to untangling and tying up multiple storylines and presenting humans in all their glory and warts.
This collection opens with a tale so convincing dear reader will be googling Count Darlotsoff of the Russian Revolution. Roorbach’s stories ramble along pleasantly, with wit and wisdom, from a unique perspective. Then BOOM! Something astonishing happens, sometimes indicated by a simple line, “And fell into a basement hole,” and sometimes portraying a much larger concept, such as patricide. The tales delve into history—the aforementioned Russian Revolution; plunges deep into socio-political culture—“His father was an important king or chieftain in an area of central Africa he refused to call a country, an area upon which the Belgians and several other European powers had long imposed borders and were now instituting ‘native’ parliaments before departing per treaty after generations of brutal occupation;” and parses human emotions and relationship dynamics—“sharks unto minnows.” There’s even a ghost story, with elements of land conservation, familial squabbles, and burgeoning love. As diverse as the themes are, and as broad the representation of people, one story stands out for its LGBT ignorance, as a main character tells the benefactor of her theater, a widower asking for a kiss, “Marcia had politely allowed just one, then explained that while being a lesbian might not mean she was entirely unavailable, her long-term relationship did.” He then proceeds to win over her wife, and they merrily cavort about town, all three holding hands, doing everything as a threesome. Lesbian relationships are real relationships, and lesbians are not toys for a man’s pleasure. That being said, this is a blemish on a set of otherwise fascinating and weird and brilliant stories. The book is dedicated to Jim Harrison, whose fans will likely appreciate Roorbach’s work.
Come one Come All
Life as a clown ages you in ways regular life don’t. Grease paint removes your identity, humor replaces your personality, and the big shoes are just plain heavy. All towns blend together till I’m not sure where I am anymore. I just sleep in my rollicking cot as they drive us to the next little burg.
Oh, but when I’m in full costume, under those lights spotlighting me—Me! The forty-five minutes I’m entertaining hundreds of children, those laughing faces are pure gold, a far better payment than the mere pittance they call my wage.
Afterward, I’m reminded of my reason for being here, makeup covering the scars that changed my life, the fact that no woman would want a man who frightens children and could never give her any. The circus is my only opportunity to observe those beautiful treasures. I people watched to my heart’s content—townies and cirkys.
Jenina, the horse trainer’s assistant and wife, cried nightly as a routine. As I said, it’s a hard life, brings the worst out of some. Franco prided his horses. She came to me one night in an unusual state, meaning she was naked as a jaybird, holding a toga in her hand. She’d been duped. Franco had bragged all day of his prowess as a lover, that he would sure be galloping tonight. We all could clearly see that it was young Lorraine, the Acrobat, who was in heat. But poor, sweet Jenina was blinded by love.
I led her into my carriage and put the toga around her. We drank some hot tea together quietly. I ignored that fact that she let the toga fall. Her eyes were blank. When she finished the tea, she dropped her cup, leaned over and started rubbing makeup off my face. Now no-one has ever seen my face in all its scarred ugliness since I joined this traveling caravan. So I jumped up and backed away.
Just as startling, she spoke, “Let me see. I have shown you my real face.”
I sat down, legs twitching, fingers jumping. She used her toga and the rest of the tea to reveal me. I felt nakeder than her, as though she had peeled my skin back and was even now counting my thoughts. She ran a finger down the daddy scar, over my nose and across my left cheek.
When life happens to circus folk, we don’t fix it, we don’t talk about it. We deal with bumps in the road and keep moving on. So when she came to me two weeks later in her usual lovely birthday suit, toga in one hand and two eyeballs the same grey-blue as Lorraine, the Acrobat’s, in the other, I told her to put her little things in a jar I opened for her. I then said we might go swimming in that pond nearby to get that red grease paint off her. I asked if she was done painting and everything was put away safe. She nodded.
She came to me looking like a snake had bit her. She left me with the relief that I had sucked the poison out. No one blinked. Circus folk run away all the time. Acrobats come and go. We had no fear of punishment from regular society. One less circus performer was nothing to them.
Anna finds a teenage girl’s body on the beach in Lithuania while on a business trip to her textile factory. Prevented from leaving by a natural disaster, she meets a journalist named Will, who moves into her carefully constructed life. He and her friends warn her against pursuing the girl’s murder, but her own past urges her on, until she finds herself in danger, and Will is incommunicado. Beard portrays a workaholic with repressed emotions and memories vividly, though Anna seems to throw up a lot and has quite a few anxiety attacks, not to mention the breakdown from grief. The story seems as self-oriented as Anna, focusing on her distress throughout, when it could have explored the horrors of sex trafficking further. Even as Anna is justified in her wavering faith in Will, his character is not developed enough for the reader to make a judgment call either way. Though the story is a good one, it could have given a little more weight toward other characters, and even considered location a main character in its cultural presence, but Anna simply comes across as too neurotic to notice anything else. I was graciously given a digital copy by the publisher through NetGalley.
After leaving a California psychiatric prison, Sean Suh relocates to Austin, Texas, where he spends his days drawing people and their auras at a local Disneyland knockoff. A girl with a copper aura tempts him despite his understanding that he need protect her from himself. He witnesses her kidnapping, but no one believes him based on his mental health and conviction record, and suspicion falls more heavily on him as he conducts his own investigation. He learns interesting things about this girl he has immediately fallen for, but he could not have foreseen who did it. Heard brilliantly leads the reader through Sean’s emotional turmoil at each new piece of information; this could well be a manual for becoming a serial killer. Flashbacks from Annabelle’s point of view would have given her more depth. Being privy to Sean’s thoughts exposed his internal struggle, a fascinating insight that almost (but not quite) invokes compassion. Fans of Liane Moriarty and Gillian Flynn will appreciate this novel. I was fortunate to receive a digital copy of this fantastic thriller from the publisher through NetGalley.