Caldwell, Ford, Pyne, the 1950s | Fiction Reviews

redstarCaldwell, Ian. The Fifth Gospel. S. & S. Mar. 2015. 448p. ISBN 9781451694147. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781451694161. F

Ten years ago Caldwell’s The Rule of Four, coauthored fifthgospel110414with Dustin Thomason, dominated the best sellers lists. With his second novel, Caldwell claims a legitimate position among the notables of this artifact-­adventure genre. Set within the walls of the Vatican (circa 2004), this thriller treats us to a captivating and compelling look at the history, politics, and pageantry of the Holy See against the backdrop of a Vatican Museum exhibit. Bolstered by a copy of the Diatessaron, a single narrative aggregate of the four Gospels, exhibit curator Ugo seeks to reestablish the Shroud of Turin’s relic status. This fifth gospel is the linchpin of his exhibit. While helping Ugo, Father Alex Andreaou, a Greek Catholic priest, and his brother Simon become entangled in something more complex than the exhibit. When Ugo is found dead, everything the brothers have worked for is in jeopardy. VERDICT Fascinating, clever, and plausible, this thriller is, at its heart, a story of sacrifice, forgiveness, and redemption. Peppered with references to real-life people, places, and events, the narrative rings true, taking the reader on an emotional journey nearly 2,000 years in the making. [See Prepub Alert, 9/15/14.]—Laura Cifelli, Fort Myers–Lee Cty. P.L., FL

redstarFord, Richard. Let Me Be Frank with You: A Frank Bascombe Book. Ecco: HarperCollins. Nov. 2014. 256p. ISBN . $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062341631. F

letmebefrank110414Ford returns to his best-known character, Frank Bascombe, first introduced in The Sportswriter, in four linked novellas that explore the state of Frank’s life and that of the larger world in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. Set on the Jersey Shore just before Christmas 2012, these stories find Frank, now 68 and retired from the real estate business, ruminating on age, loss, and the sense of decline he feels in himself and in the world. “I’m Here,” for instance, reflects on loss and resilience as Frank visits his former beach home, destroyed by the hurricane, in the company of its present owner. In “The New Normal,” Frank brings a small gift (an orthopedic pillow) to his ex-wife, Ann, who is recently diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, at the continuing care facility in the town where she currently resides. The idea of a new, diminished normal pervades these deeply elegiac tales. Like John Updike’s Rabbit Angstrom, Frank is a barometer of his times, and the times, as Ford sees them, are not good—as if Hurricane Sandy had blown back the curtains of everyday life to reveal truths about the ravages of aging, social decline, and climate change. VERDICT A notable addition—and perhaps coda—to Ford’s ­“Frank Bascombe” trilogy; highly recommended. [See Prepub Alert, 5/12/14.]—­Lawrence ­Rungren, Andover, MA

redstarPyne, Daniel. Fifty Mice. Blue Rider. Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9780399171642. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698168701. F

Jay Johnson is floating through life; if pressed, he would fiftymice110414probably say that happiness has been elusive. After all, being alive isn’t the same as living. Things take a drastic turn for Jay when he’s placed into the witness protection program very much against his will and whisked away to an enclave on Catalina Island, populated with program people and a gaggle of federal agents. They claim he knows something, and he’s convinced they’ve got the wrong guy, so he sets about planning an escape. However, Jay never counted on coming to care for his Fed-provided wife and child, the enigmatic Ginger and her mute daughter. Running out of time, Jay must reach deep inside himself to find an answer, but confronting his past may be more than he can handle. VERDICT Screenwriter and author Pyne (Twentynine Palms) weaves a smart, exceedingly clever, and unusual tale with a horrible secret at its center, which is as much a late ­coming-of-age story as it is a thriller. Fans of brainy noir will find much to love in this highly satisfying, big-screen-ready book. [See Prepub Alert, 6/16/14.]—Kristin ­Centorcelli, Denton, TX

Fifties Fiction

Bartlett, Neil. The Disappearance Boy. Bloomsbury USA. Nov. 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781620407257. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781408850466. F

Mr. Edward (Teddy) Brookes has all the makings of a disappearanceboy110414cad; he’s ingratiating to a fault, always impeccably attired, and lives a lie. He’s a magician by trade, hoping to breathe new life into an old turn at a seedy theater in Brighton in the lead-up to Princess Elizabeth’s 1953 coronation. His smiling, attractive, and very pliable new assistant is Pamela Rose. Needless to say, Teddy has a history with his assistants. Out of sight, but very much at the center of this character-driven novel by the author of The House on Brooke Street and Skin Lane is Reggie, an orphan, crippled by polio, and a homosexual (to use the term of the period) at a time when that was a punishable offense. He’s the “disappearance boy” whose job is to be always at the right place in good time to insure that the showier parts of Teddy’s act shine. The shifting relationships among these three characters are the stuff of the novel. The big reveal when it comes has been well prepared for and satisfies. VERDICT This is a lovingly rendered snapshot of a vanished time and place with menace always lurking at the edges. Bartlett, who is also a playwright and has been artistic director of a major London playhouse, has written the perfect book for LGBT readers who are also fans of comedy duo Penn and Teller.—Bob Lunn, Kansas City, MO

Callahan, Michael. Searching for Grace Kelly. Mariner: Houghton Harcourt. Jan. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780544313545. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9780544313569. F

searching for grace kelly110414In the 1950s, gals with guts and a dream, could leave their small-town life and head for the Big Apple, where the Barbizon Hotel for Women awaited. This is where young ladies lived while chasing fame, fortune, and a career. Vanity Fair contributing editor ­Callahan captures the essence of the Barbizon as it really was—part dorm, refuge, and place of awakening. The three main characters experience life in New York from different perspectives. Laura is an elegant Smith College student who lands a prestigious internship at Mademoiselle magazine. Dolly, a plain yet spunky working girl, attends secretarial school and does some serious husband hunting. Vivian, a gorgeous Brit, dreams of being a famous singer but for now works as a cigarette girl at the hottest nightclub. All three tangle with young men, and reach for their dreams. They experience the city fully, from the seedy, intellectual Beat scene to Madison Avenue’s upper crust. VERDICT ­Callahan’s debut novel truly captures glamorous New York City from young women’s perspective in the 1950s. For aficionados of anything from the Fifties and the movie The Best of Everything (1959).—Beth Gibbs, Davidson NC

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The following titles are reviewed in this month's print issue.
Visit Book Verdict for the full reviews.

redstarBarry, Quan. She Weeps Each Time You’re Born. Pantheon. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780307911773. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307911780. F DEBUT

Cutter, Nick. The Deep. Gallery: S. & S. Jan. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9781476717739. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781476717760. F

Daoud, Hassan. The Penguin’s Song. City Lights. Nov. 2014. 228p. tr. from Arabic by Marilyn Booth. ISBN 9780872866232. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9780872866546. F

Ekbäck, Cecilia. Wolf Winter. Weinstein: Perseus. Jan. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781602862524. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781602862531. F DEBUT

Galera, Daniel. Blood-Drenched Beard. Penguin Pr. Jan. 2015. 384p. tr. from Portuguese by Alison Entrekin. ISBN 9781594205743. $26.95. F

Gerritsen, Tess. Die Again. Ballantine. (Rizzoli & Isles). Jan. 2015. 342p. ISBN 9780345543851. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780345543868. F

Hauser, Thomas. The Final Recollections of Charles Dickens. Counterpoint. Nov. 2014. 176p. ISBN 9781619024281. $23. F

redstarItani, Frances. Tell. Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. Jan. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9780802123367. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780802191601. F

Kristeva, Julia. Teresa, My Love: An Imagined Life of the Saint of Avila. Columbia Univ. Nov. 2014. 624p. tr. from French by Lorna Scott Fox. ISBN 9780231149600. $35; ebk. ISBN 9780231520461. F

Lane, Harriet. Her. Little, Brown. Jan. 2015. 272p. ISBN 9780316369879. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316369893. F

redstarLemaitre, Pierre. Irène. MacLehose: Quercus. Dec. 2014. 464p. tr. from French by Frank Wynne. ISBN 9781623658007. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9781623658014. F

Leya, Ella. The Orphan Sky. Sourcebooks Landmark. Feb. 2015. 336p. ISBN 9781402298653. $24.99;ebk. ISBN 9781402298660. F

redstarMorrow, James. Galápagos Regained. St. Martin’s. Jan. 2015. 496p. ISBN 9781250054012. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466880924. F

redstarOlsson, Fredrik T. Chain of Events. Little, Brown. Nov. 2014. 432p. tr. from Swedish by Dominic Hinde. ISBN 9780316335003. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316334990. F DEBUT

Otto, Shawn Lawrence. Sins of Our Fathers. Milkweed. Nov. 2014. 356p. ISBN 9781571311092. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781571319128. F

Parmar, Priya. Vanessa and Her Sister. Ballantine. Jan. 2015. 352p. ISBN 9780804176378. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780804176385. F

redstarPlesko, Les. No Stopping Train. Soft Skull. 2014. 272p. ISBN 9781593765453. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781619024182. F

Rosenthal, Lorraine Zago. Independently Wealthy. Thomas Dunne: St. Martin’s. Dec. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781250040350. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9781466835634. F

Self, Will. Shark. Grove. Nov. 2014. 480p. ISBN 9780802123107. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780802192400. F

Shearer, Alex. This Is the Life. Washington Square: Atria. Feb. 2015. 229p. ISBN 9781476764405. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476764429. F

Shoham, Liad. Asylum City. Harper. Dec. 2014. 336p. tr. from Hebrew by Sara Kitai. ISBN 9780062237538. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062237552. F

redstarSimsion, Graeme. The Rosie Effect. S. & S. Jan. 2015. 304p. ISBN 9781476767314. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476767338. F

Snyder, Carrie. Girl Runner. Harper. Feb. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9780062336040. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062336064. F

redstarToews, Miriam. All My Puny Sorrows. McSweeney’s. Nov. 2014. 330p. ISBN 9781940450278. $24. F

van Praag, Menna. The Dress Shop of Dreams. Ballantine. Dec. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780804178983. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9780804178990. F

Young-Stone, Michele. Above Us Only Sky. S. & S. Mar. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9781451657678. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781451657692. F

Short Stories

All About Skin: Short Fiction by Women of Color. Univ. of Wisconsin. Nov. 2014. 316p. ed. by Jina Ortiz & Rochelle Spencer. ISBN 9780299301941. pap. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9780299301934. F

redstarBarrett, Colin. Young Skins. Black Cat: Grove Atlantic. Mar. 2015. 224p. ISBN 9780802123329. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780802192103. F DEBUT

redstarBaxter, Charles. Something I Want You To Do. Pantheon. Feb. 2015. 240p. ISBN 9781101870013. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781101870020. F

redstarBelfast Noir. Akashic. Nov. 2014. 256p. ed. by Adrian McKinty & Stuart Neville. ISBN 9781617752919. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781617753237. F

Last-Minute Erotica

Lauren, Christina. Dirty Rowdy Thing. Gallery: S. & S. (Wild Seasons, Bk. 2). Nov. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781476777962. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476777979. Erotic romance

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