Week ending August 10, 2012
Burke, James Lee. Creole Belle: A Dave Robicheaux Novel. S. & S. 528p. ISBN 9781451648133. $27.99. F
In the finale (spoiler alert!) of The Glass Rainbow, Dave Robicheaux, the Cajun police detective featured in Burke’s long-running mystery series, was shot in the back and faded out of consciousness, murkily seeing (or hallucinating?) himself being carried aboard an old-time steamboat. In this new volume’s opening pages, Robicheaux is recuperating from his injuries. But all is not well in the humid swamps of New Iberia Parish, where there is little that is peaceful and even less that is pure, and sex, death, and corruption pervade the humid atmosphere like the tentacles of foul-smelling oil that contaminates the Gulf. Still groggy from painkillers, Robicheaux sees a troubled young woman in his hospital room, a Creole musician who leaves him with a haunting song and a plea for help. Is she just another hallucination? Longtime friend and fellow investigator Clete Purcel has his own problems, as a deadly contract killer roaming the streets of New Orleans seems to have a mysterious connection to his past. As the bodies of the innocent and the guilty add up, both men are drawn once more into the struggle against “the evil that men do.”
Verdict Despite the inevitable violence, atmosphere takes precedence over plot, and there is a melancholy and autumnal tone to Robicheaux’s thoughts in the 19th book in the series. Series fans will want this. [See Prepub Alert, 1/21/12.]—Bradley A. Scott, Corpus Christi, TX
Cohen, Joshua. Four New Messages. Graywolf. Aug. 2012. c.208p. ISBN 9781555976187. pap. $14. F
Upcoming writer Cohen (Witz) offers four confident, rich, new delights in this collection. None of the stories goes over 50 pages, and each distinct tale wrestles with the very real question of the Internet and human communication. Incriminating personal information goes viral. Online porn comes to Eastern Europe. An academic starts refusing to read the work of his students: “So art reconstitutes biography—or better, biography like iron can make art like steel, but then the art can be heated again and the iron reseparated, the biography flowing molten all on its own—what a significant simile! such a suitable image!” The keenness of Cohen’s prose keeps it from purpling, and the meaner scenes are leavened with a generous pathos. Less slapstick than Thomas Pynchon and less worried than David Foster Wallace, this book nevertheless offers a similar joy.
Verdict A gift in this uncertain 21st century; highly, highly recommended for all readers of contemporary fiction.—Travis Fristoe, Alachua Co. Lib. Dist., Gainesville, FL
Friedmann, Patty. No Takebacks. Tiny Satchel. 2012. 175p. ISBN 9780984914630. pap. $9.95. F
Navigating the seventh grade is tough enough, but add in being diagnosed ADHD and adopted, and life gets complicated. On the surface, Otto Fisher’s family looks similar to those of his classmates at his New Orleans private school. His father is an English professor at Tulane University, his mother is an artist, and older sister Ada is a good student headed for college. Underneath is the ongoing fear of their father’s anger and his fists and for Otto the pull between wanting to be safe and wanting a father, even an imperfect one.
Verdict Instead of writing a depressing rehash of troubled families, Friedmann (Too Jewish; A Little Bit Ruined) has given us a captivating look at the hopes and needs of a young man coming into his own. There are no simple answers but a clear and compelling story that will appeal to both YA readers and adults who enjoy coming-of-age tales.—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
Hurwitz, Gregg. The Survivor. St. Martin’s. Aug. 2012. c.384p. ISBN 9780312625511. $25.99. F
Nate Overbay’s back is literally up against a wall. He is standing on a narrow ledge, 11 stories above the ground, about to do the unthinkable. That’s when he hears it: the unmistakable sound of gunshots. During his darkest hour Nate has unwittingly become witness to a bank robbery in progress. Intent only on relieving his own problems, Nate now has an opportunity to change his path and those of many others. Heart-stopping action ensues as Nate takes on a group of ruthless killers intent on destroying everything he holds dear, including his only child.
Verdict Hurwitz’s (You’re Next) latest thriller does not disappoint. Fast-paced and action-packed, it will appeal to Hurwitz’s huge fan base as well as newcomers to his work and readers who enjoy adrenaline-charged suspense. [See Prepub Alert, 2/15/12; library marketing.]—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC
Jacobs, John Hornor. This Dark Earth. Gallery: S. & S. c.352p. ISBN 9781451666663. pap. $15. HORROR
Bram Stoker Award nominee Jacobs (Southern Gods) avoids the major pitfall that many aspiring zombie writers fall prey to: a lack of originality. Although his novel feels like a classic zombie apocalypse tale rife with gruesome violence and an action-packed story line, what sets it apart is how the protagonists adapt to a world dominated by zombies. A ten-year-old prodigy when the disaster struck and now a young man, Gus, his physician mother, Lucy, and others draw on their ingenuity and resourcefulness to build Bridge City, a fortressed bridge that is humanity’s last line of defense. The hard decisions they must make in a world without humanity drive Jacobs’s compelling plot from beginning to end.
Verdict Zombie fiction devotees will love this book, which will also appeal to horror fans. Owing to the intense gore, however, it is not suitable for young teenagers. For adult readers, the novel goes far enough without crossing the line.—Matt Schirano, Grand Canyon Univ. Lib., Phoenix
LaValle, Victor. The Devil in Silver. Spiegel & Grau. Aug. 2012. c.432p. ISBN 9781400069866. $27. F
Ken Kesey’s One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest meets Stephen King’s It in this page-turner by LaValle (Big Machine). When his latest brawl involves undercover police, big Pepper is committed for a 72-hour evaluation at a Queens mental health facility called Northwest. But the combination of Pepper’s bad temper, Northwest’s corrupt, overworked staffers, surprises unleashed by the other residents, and overwhelming meds soon has that stay looking permanent. Pepper is drawn into a plot with an unlikely team of the facility’s oldest resident, a deceptively tough African American girl, and a man who obsessively works the pay phone bank to stop the havoc wreaked by a secreted resident of an off-limits wing, a killer whom some say is the Devil.
Verdict LaValle skillfully mixes an indictment of the mental health system, eccentric and diverse character studies, and horror thrills in a freewheeling novel that is only occasionally marred by twitchy shifts in point of view. This Devil is one hell of a good time: exciting, insightful, tragic, and hopeful in equal proportion.—Neil Hollands, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA
Rich, David. Caravan of Thieves. Dutton. Aug. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9780525952886. $25.95. F
Dan Waters is a flim-flam man, a charmer who prefers to be the middleman in any scam. His son Rollie is the same but stuck with a conscience. A marine lieutenant, Rollie is stateside after three tours in Afghanistan, the last as an undercover spy. When $25 million of Saddam Hussein’s stash appears to have been shipped to the United States in body bags, the chief suspect is Dan, and only Rollie can find him. With the Marines, a murderous group of right-wing patriots, and even a Treasury agent after him, Rollie must visit his troubled childhood for clues about where Dan might have hidden the money—and what to do with it.
Verdict In his first novel, veteran screenwriter Rich gives us a quick-thinking schemer, a versatile loner, and a likable rogue who’s always two steps ahead of the bad guys while trusting no one, not even his father’s voice in his head. Like many of Elmore Leonard’s protagonists, Rollie is far from pure, but we admire his independence as well as his deviousness. Highly recommended.—Roland Person, formerly with Southern Illinois Univ. Lib., Carbondale
Wagner, Bruce. Dead Stars. Blue Rider: Penguin Group (USA). Aug. 2012. c.656p. ISBN 9780399159350. $30. F
Covering almost every aspect of the American fame machine, Wagner’s (Memorial) latest novel pulls no punches in its presentation of a culture high on celebrity and overdosing on its own supply. Pregnant teen Jerilynn rechristens herself Reeyonna, as if naming herself after the singer is an adequate substitute for talent and a reason to be famous. Her brother Jerzy works as a specialized paparazzo, taking honey shots (upskirt photos) of barely legal actresses while having drug-addled visions of a racially segregated entertainment conspiracy run by the rapper Eminem. Telma, the world’s (second) youngest breast cancer survivor, clings to her slim claim to fame after being usurped by a toddler. This description barely scratches the surface of a heartbreaking yet laugh-out-loud story, as nearly a dozen principal characters navel-gaze their lives away for a fleeting chance to be a part of Hollywood.
Verdict With his huge cast, sly wit, and vicious social commentary, Wagner is a 21st-century Charles Dickens—if Dickens wrote about Internet porn. His book is highly recommended as this generation’s Less Than Zero.—Pete Petruski, Cumberland Cty. Lib. Syst., Carlisle, PA
Wallace, Wendy. The Painted Bridge. Scribner. 2012. c.304p. ISBN 9781451660821. $25. F
The often harrowing world of Victorian mental asylums serves as the backdrop for this first novel from award-winning journalist and nonfiction writer Wallace (Oranges and Lemons). Newlywed Anna Palmer is committed to the isolated Lake House against her will after making a series of impulsive decisions that anger her clergyman husband. Failing to convince the authorities there of her sanity, Anna enlists the proprietor’s young daughter as her ally in her desperate escape attempt. As complications arise, she realizes she has greatly underestimated the amount of danger she faces.
Verdict Wallace rushes through the melodramatic climax to her tale and leaves many of her most interesting characters underdeveloped, particularly Lucas St. Clair, a young doctor who believes he can diagnose mental disorders through photography. The novel is well researched, however, and its exploration of 19th-century attitudes toward and treatment of the mentally ill could appeal to historical fiction readers who enjoyed similarly themed novels such as Megan Chance’s An Inconvenient Wife or Kathy Hepinstall’s recent Blue Asylum.—Mara Bandy, Champaign P.L., IL