Week ending November 15, 2013
Arjouni, Jakob. Brother Kemal: A Kayankaya Thriller. Melville House. 2013. 192p. tr. from German by Anthea Bell. ISBN 9781612192758. pap. $15.95. MYS
After a 20-year hiatus writing literary fiction, Arjouni returns to his popular mystery series (Happy Birthday, Turk!; Kismet), featuring Frankfurt PI Kemal Kayankaya. Kemal has set up shop in a ramshackle building on the seedy side of town, but that doesn’t stop socialite Valerie de Chavannes from tracking him down and imploring him to find her missing teenage daughter. This task is accomplished far too easily, however, and the Turkish-German sleuth is stumbling into a morass of prostitution, drug dealing, and artfully rendered photography. Is the unnaturally beautiful Valerie an innocent bystander? Is her wayward teenage daughter? Before Kemal can come to his senses, he’s hired by another beautiful woman, Katja the publisher. A controversial Moroccan novelist is coming to the Frankfurt Book Fair, and Katja needs Kemal to devote his resources to protecting the man at all costs. Soon Kemal notices that case one and case two have become very inconveniently intertwined.
Verdict The fifth mystery—and final volume in the series (Arjouni died of pancreatic cancer at age 48 in January 2013)—is packed with humor, false leads, seduction, and brutality. A fast-paced, witty read sure to satisfy all kinds of mystery lovers.—Jennifer Rogers, J. Sargeant Reynolds Community Coll. Lib., Richmond
Barbieri, Maggie. Once Upon a Lie. Minotaur: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2013. 304p. ISBN 9781250011671. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250011688. F
Maeve Conlon has a lot on her plate. Her budding cupcake business is demanding and time-consuming, her teenage daughter, Heather, is fast becoming a juvenile delinquent, and her father, Jack, keeps wandering away from the nursing home where he lives. To top it off, her cousin Sean has just been found murdered, and Jack is the prime suspect. As Maeve works tirelessly to keep her father safe (even concocting alibis), she begins to wonder if he really is capable of murder. After all, Sean was abusive to Maeve when she was growing up, and maybe her father knew. Although suffering from the early stages of Alzheimer’s, Jack has moments of clarity and certainly is strong enough physically (from his daily escapes) to have done it. As the police continue to keep their sights on Jack, Maeve realizes she will have to face up to her past in order to save her father.
Verdict Barbieri’s (Murder 101) new novel moves excruciatingly slowly for a thriller and seems more concerned with examining family dynamics and Alzheimer’s than with solving a real mystery. It still can be enjoyed for those reasons, but readers looking for a fast-paced tale of suspense might want to skip this one.—Cynthia Price, Francis Marion Univ. Lib., Florence, SC
Borders, Lisa. The Fifty-First State. Engine Bks. 2013. 328p. ISBN 9781938126208. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938126246. F
Life-changing events can come crashing down on the most ordinary days. New Jersey high schooler Josh Corson learns this when his parents die in a car accident. His older stepsister Hallie also dealt with this hard lesson when her mother died 26 years earlier. Her grief turned to anger and estrangement, but Josh’s sorrow may save her. Thrown together by death, Josh and Hallie hesitantly forge new relationships—with each other and with the community around them.
Verdict Border (Cloud Cuckoo Land) does not follow the hapless single woman taking on motherhood humor formula. Instead, she has crafted a clear-eyed and tender look at the mistakes we make and how forgiveness can heal. There are no prefect endings, but there are ways forward. This thoughtful novel will attract readers who appreciate intelligent family dramas.—Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll. Lib., NC
Frame, Ronald. Havisham. Picador. Nov. 2013. 368p. ISBN 9781250037275. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781250037299. F
In his latest novel, Frame (The Lantern Bearers) tackles the backstory of a literary legend: Charles Dickens’s reclusive, vengeful Miss Havisham.The daughter of a prosperous widowed brewer, young Catherine Havisham leads a sheltered life. Her father’s wealth and social aspirations isolate her from the other children in the village, leaving her unable to connect emotionally with the scant peers nearby. As a teenager Catherine is sent to live with the Chadwyck family to gain sophistication and an education. Though trained to quote poetry and participate in fashionable tableaus, she remains unworldly and ill-prepared for the romantic advances of the notorious Mr. Compeyson.
Verdict Short scenes and shifting grammatical tenses give the novel a dreamlike quality and make Catherine’s narration all the more unreliable. By examining her psychological development, this prequel to Great Expectations reveals a Catherine Havisham who has always been naïve about human nature, almost right up to her very end. While Frame is prone to telling rather than showing the gradual construction of Catherine’s delicate psyche, readers will be eager to discover what led to that fateful wedding day when she was abandoned at the altar. [See Prepub Alert, 6/24/13.]—Liza Oldham, Beverly, MA
Ponsor, Michael. The Hanging Judge. Open Road. Dec. 2013. 376p. ISBN 9781480441941. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781480441903. F
Husband and father Clarence “Moon” Hudson is accused of murdering a drug dealer and a volunteer nurse during a drive-by shooting in Holyoke, MA. Through political machinations, the case gets elevated to a capital trial. Judge David Norcross presides over this high-profile death penalty case, and with it comes all the craziness of the media circus, public outcry, and behind-the-scenes maneuvering from the parties involved. Prosecuting attorney Lydia Gomez-Larsen knows it will be an uphill battle to outwit well-seasoned, chain-smoking defense attorney Bill Redpath.
Verdict In his debut, Ponsor, a senior judge for the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts, certainly brings his expertise to the minutiae of the numerous aspects of a court during trial. Although his work is touted as a legal thriller, the exacting level of detail detracts from the story and bogs down any momentum. But the slow pace does reflect our judicial system, and those who enjoy jury duty will revel in all the legal elements.—Joy Gunn, Paseo Verde Lib., Henderson, NV
Schätzing, Frank. Limit. Jo Fletcher: Quercus. Nov. 2013. 1248p. tr. from German by Shaun Whiteside & others. ISBN 9781623650445. $29.95; ebk. ISBN 9781623650452. SF
In 2025, Earth is transitioning from energy scarcity to one of limitless consumption owing to the discovery of helium-3 on the moon. Julian Orley is the multibillionaire responsible for bringing the resource back to Earth through a space elevator that not only transports the resource but connects to a hotel in space and another new one on the moon. He invites several of the world’s richest people on a trip to the new lunar hostelry to convince them to finance a second elevator. Meanwhile, on Earth, virtual detective Owen Jericho investigates an elusive hacker and discovers a world of intrigue that puts Orley, his space empire, and his potential investors in danger.
Verdict The author of the internationally best-selling science thriller The Swarm brings readers to a future full of excitement and danger. His complex and well-woven thriller combines a thoughtful vision of the future with relics of the present and creates an atmosphere both alien and familiar. At over 1,200 pages, it is also quite lengthy. Some passages leave you wondering if the length was necessary, but the culmination of the story makes the adventure worth it.—Matt Schirano, Grand Canyon Univ. Lib., Phoenix