Fiction from Evans, Miller, Peacock, Wilhide, and Two Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Week ending January 13, 2017

Mazzola, Anna. The Unseeing. Sourcebooks Landmark. Feb. 2017. 400p. ISBN 9781492635475. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9781492635482. F
[DEBUT] Christmas Eve 1836, Hannah Brown has been murdered and her body parts scattered throughout London. Her fiancé, James Greenacre, has been found guilty of her murder and his lover Sarah Gale guilty of assisting. Both have been sentenced to hang, but a petition for clemency has been submitted to save Sarah, who claims to be innocent. Young solicitor Edmund Fleetwood has been assigned by the Home Secretary to investigate. Unfortunately, except for her short statement that she was not at the house and had no knowledge of the crime, Sarah remains unwilling to elaborate, leaving Edmund with little to go on and a quickly ticking clock.
Verdict Drawing on the notorious 1837 Edgware Road murder, debut author Mazzola has written a worthy “did she/didn’t she” historical crime drama and a vivid portrait of life and criminal justice in Victorian London. For fans of Sarah Waters.—Susan Santa, Shelter Rock P.L., Albertson, NY

Miller, Emily Jeanne. The News from the End of the World. Houghton Harcourt. Feb. 2017. 288p. ISBN 9780547734415. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780547734514. F
All families have secrets, but the Lake family of Cape Cod seems to have more than most. Vance Lake asks his twin brother, Craig, for a place to stay after he does something so stupid that it costs him his job and his girlfriend. In the course of four days, Vance discovers that the rest of the family is a mess as well. His beloved 17-year-old niece Amanda is pregnant. Craig is furious and also in debt; Gina, Craig’s second wife, is being tempted into an affair with her husband’s best friend; and Craig and Gina’s seven-year-old daughter, Helen, just wants to be loved. Narrated in brief chapters by the various family members, who regret past mistakes and look for ways to make life better, Miller’s (Brand New Human Beings) second novel proves Leo Tolstoy’s adage that all unhappy families are unhappy in different ways.
Verdict Miller has created a quirky, relatable family. It is impossible to finish this book until everyone’s issues are resolved, while hoping in the meantime that the resolutions will be positive.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

starred review starMurphy, Sara Flannery. The Possessions. Harper. Feb. 2017. 368p. ISBN 9780062458322. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062458339. F
possessions011317[DEBUT] The Elysian Society is a discreet service that enables people to contact dead friends and relatives. This is not done through séances or Ouija boards, but instead employees, called bodies, take a pill that allows the dead to possess them for a set amount of time. Eurydice has been with the society for five years, using the possessions as a way to remove herself from reality for large parts of each day. When Patrick Braddock wants to reach his wife, Sylvia, whose death may not have been as clear-cut as he makes it out to be, Eurydice’s detachment crumbles. Growing obsessed with the Braddocks, she begins to break the rules meant to keep her safe. At the same time, a local murder may reveal the dark side of the Elysians. This poignant tale is a study of grief and obsession told by a person who will do anything to forget while surrounded by those who refuse to move on.
Verdict
Murphy’s imaginative debut is a haunting ghost story and a thrilling mystery that will engross readers until the final page. [See Prepub Alert, 8/26/16.]—Portia Kapraun, Delphi P.L., IN

Peacock, Nancy. The Life and Times of Persimmon Wilson. Atria. Jan. 2017. 336p. ISBN 9781501116353. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781501116377. F
In 1875, while in jail awaiting his hanging, Persimmon Wilson writes a record of his life. Fifteen years earlier, he was sold to a sugar plantation in Louisiana. But as Union troops neared New Orleans, Master Wilson fled to Texas, taking with him Chloe, a light-skinned house slave and Persy’s love. For five years, Persy tracks her, until he is captured by the Comanches, who are impressed by his stoicism and adopt him. During a raid, Persy fortuitously finds Chloe, and they live together freely as Comanches until they are discovered by white soldiers. The author’s efforts at verisimilitude and historical research are clear. Peacock has included an afterword apologizing for any offense caused by her use of dialect or writing about communities she has no direct experience with and explaining her choices. Unfortunately, it is those very elements that ultimately reduce the effectiveness of her narrative.
Verdict Stylistically competent, Peacock’s second novel (after Life Without Water) may appeal to readers of Sue Monk Kidd’s The Invention of Wings or Kathryn Stockett’s The Help, but a more powerful and original take on this topic is Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad.—Melanie Kindrachuk, Stratford P.L., Ont.

WARTIME MOVIEMAKING
Evans, Lissa. Their Finest. Harper. Feb. 2017. 464p. ISBN 9780062414915. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062414946. F
In 1940s Britain, the Ministry of Information is working on a propaganda film very loosely based on the evacuation of Allied troops at Dunkirk. Catrin has been tapped to help write the script, although her critical male coworkers are skeptical. Ambrose, an aging character actor, reluctantly agrees to take on a small role, although he knows he’s far too talented for the part. Special Military Advisor Arthur is more interested in getting to know Edith, one of the costumers, than doing his job, but the director isn’t really listening to him anyway. A thousand rewrites and reshoots later, will this film ever get off the ground? In her second novel (first published in the UK as Their Finest Hour and a Half), Evans (Crooked Heart) is more focused on exploring her characters than in teasing out the tiny thread of a plot, and only patient readers will enjoy the slow pace. However, the period details evoking London during the Blitz are masterfully done.
Verdict A motion picture is in the works, and one wonders how much will be changed to accommodate the modern filmgoer. Which is rather ironic, given the novel’s subject.—Laurel Bliss, San Diego State Univ. Lib.

Wilhide, Elizabeth. If I Could Tell You. Penguin. Feb. 2017. 320p. ISBN 9780143130437. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781524704070. F
ificouldtellyou011317Living by the English seaside on the brink of World War II, housewife Julia Compton lives for her son’s holidays from boarding school. Until, that is, she meets film director Dougie Birdsall, who is shooting a documentary in her close-knit community. Wilhide’s second novel after Ashenden could more appropriately be titled “Anatomy of an Affair” as Julia and Dougie embark on a path of no return that has spiraling consequences for two families, especially Julia’s young son Peter. When the lovers move to London so that Dougie can make war films, even the Blitz takes a backseat to the ebbs and flows of passion between the couple. Wilhide’s main characters fail to elicit sympathy, but her short, evocative phrasing packs a punch on matters of the heart.
Verdict Readers who enjoy introspective and morally ambiguous tales such as Jojo Moyes’s The Last Letter from Your Lover and Anita Shreve’s The Pilot’s Wife will want to pick up this tale from a promising writer. At times a bit slow-paced, Wilhide’s title delves deep into the human psyche, especially when it comes to loving and losing.—Christine Barth, Scott Cty. Lib. Syst., IA

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