Week ending April 11, 2014
Chang, Henry. Death Money. Soho Crime. Apr. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781616953515. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781616953522. MYS
In this bland sequel to Red Jade, the body of a young Asian man is discovered in the frigid waters of the Harlem River between northern Manhattan and the Bronx. Chinese American detective Jack Yu, whose precinct is in southern Manhattan’s Chinatown, is called into the case, the unrealistic implication being he is the only Asian detective in the NYPD. Initially, no wounds are found on the dead man, suggesting a bridge-jumping suicide; however, the autopsy reveals a thin, expertly placed knife wound. Yu immediately thinks Chinatown connections and consults his friend Billy Bow, a Chinatown restaurant owner, and Ah Por, an ancient “wise woman” whose clichéd words have multiple meanings. Yu’s investigation brings him to the illicit gambling dens of Chinatown and the Bronx frequented by Chinese immigrants and highlights Chinese tong rivalry.
Verdict Although the story takes place over three days, there is very little action of interest, just a lot of traveling within Manhattan and the Bronx. Yu’s love interest, portrayed primarily through his musings about her body, adds nothing. Chang’s repetition of events as Yu mulls over clues is unnecessary. The use of italics to represent thoughts and Chinese words is distracting. The ending, although plausible, comes out of nowhere.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY
Coffey, Rebecca. Hysterical: Anna Freud’s Story. She Writes. May 2014. 345p. ISBN 9781938314421. pap. $16.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938314438. F
Anna (1895–1982), the youngest of Sigmund Freud’s six children, devoted much of her life to caring for her father and defending his theories. In this fictional autobiography, Coffey takes readers into the turbulent Freud household and delves into the complex father-daughter relationship. Anna observes sibling rivalries, marital tensions, and practitioners of psychoanalysis. She pays particular attention to two periods of psychoanalytic treatment conducted on her by her father, despite his warnings not to analyze family members. She details her dreams and masturbation fantasies and her father’s attempts to direct her to heterosexual fulfillment. Even as Anna nurses him through surgeries and cancer treatments that weaken him physically, he denies her claims of homosexuality. After devoting three-quarters of her story to her first 30 years, Anna hurries through the tense account of the family’s flight from the Nazis and summarizes much of her next four decades. She barely mentions her own contributions to education theory and analysis of children and touches lightly on her decades-long relationship with Dorothy Burlingham.
Verdict Mental health journalist Coffey’s (Unspeakable Truths and Happy Endings) effective creation of Anna’s cool, somewhat clinical voice will hold the attention of readers already curious about the Freuds or psychoanalytic theory, but the book engages the intellect more than the emotions.—Kathy Piehl, Minnesota State Univ. Lib., Mankato
Davidson, John P. The Obedient Assassin. Delphinium. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781883285586. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781480465190. F
In August 1940, while living in Mexico, exiled Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky was brutally assassinated by Ramón Mercader, a covert Soviet agent who had infiltrated Trotsky’s household. This debut novel is the fictionalized story of that agent. Historically literate readers will already know the end of this tale before they open the first page, but that’s not the point. In Davidson’s calm, measured prose, the reader experiences what Mercader experienced in the years before the attack. We witness the careful, methodical construction of the plot against Trotsky and the people who wittingly, willingly, or otherwise become part of that plot. Plucked from the Spanish Civil War by his domineering mother to fulfill the orders of Stalin’s spy network, Davidson’s Mercader is anything but a doctrinaire Communist firebrand. He’s an ordinary young man whose only outstanding characteristic is his charm with young women. But when coldly and calculatingly directed by a ruthless intelligence service with far-flung and well-informed connections, even such a commonplace young man can become a precisely targeted weapon.
Verdict Davidson, a veteran journalist and nonfiction writer (The Long Road North), reportedly spent years researching the Trotsky assassination, and the story contains much fascinating historical detail. But its most intriguing aspect is its meticulous examination of how an unexceptional young man can be manipulated by family, ideology, and cynical superiors into committing an atrocity with far-reaching consequences.—Bradley Scott, Buffalo, MO
Kramer, Kieran. Sweet Talk Me. St. Martin’s. Apr. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781250009913. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466805545. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
True Maybank’s 12th birthday marked the day she had to become an adult and start making adult decisions. No longer could she hang out at Sand Dollar Heaven (the trailer park) with her best friend Harrison Gamble. She had to become a Southern woman as commanded by her Maybank family. Six years later at her senior prom, she had to make her second major adult decision: Should she continue along the Maybank path she began at 12? Should she stay with the genteel Dubose Waring to join the Maybank-Waring lines, or follow her love and her heart (Harrison) to Nashville? Sweet Talk Me begins two weeks before the Maybank-Waring wedding. Harrison is now a bona fide country music star, and True is on her way to becoming a Waring bride. A chance encounter in Atlanta leaves both questioning the decisions they made years ago and wondering if first love really can be true love.
Verdict Although in true contemporary romance style we know the boy and girl will end up together, they are characters with whom the reader truly connects and for whom fans will cheer. Side plotlines about the firefighters of 9/11 and siblings with Asperberger’s do not detract but add depth and true humanity to the family dynamics. Fans of Kramer’s historical fiction series (“The Impossible Bachelors”; “The House of Brady”) will be curious about her foray into contemporary romance, while readers who enjoy works by Nora Roberts and Luanne Rice will want to give Kramer a try. This reviewer predicts that the beaches this summer will be covered with copies of Sweet Talk Me.—Heather Lisa Maneiro, Minnesota State Univ. Lib.‚ Moorhead