Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, June 7, 2013

Week ending June 7, 2013

starred review starEstleman, Loren D. The Confessions of Al Capone. Forge: Tor. Jun. 2013. 416p. ISBN 9780765331199. $27.99; ebk. ISBN 9781429943253. F
In 1939, Al Capone was released from Alcatraz after serving a seven-and-a-half-year sentence for income tax evasion. Suffering from the effects of syphilis he had contracted as a young man, the former gang boss retired to a palatial beach house near Miami, where he lived with his wife and son until his death in 1947. Into this historical scenario, Estleman, the popular and award-winning author of 70 novels, weaves a gripping fictional tale of a young FBI agent on a perilous mission. Owing to his family connections with the Capone “outfit” and his training at a Catholic seminary, Peter Vasco is seen by FBI director J. Edgar Hoover as an ideal tool with which to infiltrate Capone’s household, masquerading as a priest, and collect information that can be used to investigate Capone’s family and associates. In addition to this difficult mission, Vasco faces the awkward duty of mending his strained relationship with his father, whose link to the Capone gang during Peter’s childhood years remains murky and unexplained, and his own unresolved feelings about his unfinished religious training. Estleman’s Capone is a complex and multifaceted figure: jovial family man, convivial host, sharp-dressed fashion plate, and pensive retiree contemplating his memories and mortality. Although mentally deteriorating, he is still, on his good days, a canny judge of character who is capable of ruthless retaliation.
Verdict A tense and thoughtful historical thriller, recommended for all fans of crime fiction and historical novels. [Previewed in Kristi Chadwick’s “Following the Digital Clues: Mystery Genre Spotlight,” LJ 4/15/13.—Ed.]—Bradley Scott, Corpus Christie, TX

Kennedy, Dan. American Spirit. New Harvest. Jun. 2013. 346p. ISBN 9780544032040. $26. F
When Matthew is fired from his six-figure job for urinating on the floor of his Manhattan office, it sets off a chain of events that unravel his world. His suburban marriage disintegrates. He develops a painful kidney stone. He’s hit by a car while jogging drunk around a supermarket parking lot. Suddenly, Matthew is living the life of a lead character in a Steely Dan song about marginalized, beautiful losers. But instead of lamenting his hard luck, he sets off on an odyssey of self-discovery that takes him from Yellowstone to Bali and includes car living, drug dealing, mind-blowing sex with a Hollywood agent specializing in hot young vampires, and glazing mugs with random bits of wisdom at a community center pottery class. Matthew’s stoned, stream-of-consciousness ramblings are laugh-out-loud funny, yet interspersed with passages of startling and poignant beauty.
Verdict Like an axiom on one of Matthew’s esoteric coffee cups, this debut novel by the host of The Moth podcast starts out cute and then gets ugly. Highly recommended, especially for fans of other sharp, iconoclastic authors like Jay McInerney, Douglas Coupland, and Eric Bogosian. [New Harvest is a joint venture between Amazon Publishing and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.—Ed.]—Jeanne Bogino, New Lebanon Lib., NY

Maxwell, Cathy. The Devil’s Heart. Avon. (Chattan Curse). 2013. 372p. ISBN 9780062070241. pap. $7.99; ebk. 9780062070272. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Margaret Chattan travels to Scotland in the hope of overturning a curse that has plagued her family for generations. According to lore, the male Chattans will die if they fall in love. Margaret is the first daughter born during this time, and her brothers, Harry and Neal, are both recently wed (Lyon’s Bride; The Devil’s Witch). But on the journey, Margaret’s carriage and all her outriders are blown off a Scottish mountainside. Margaret and Harry’s valet Rowan are the sole survivors, though she appears completely unharmed. Heath Macnachtan, the new laird of the clan following his brother’s murder a year earlier, has enough problems with debt, rambunctious crofters, and two high-spirited sisters to bother with curses and mysterious white cats. Yet the earnest Margaret intrigues him. When she declares they are betrothed following a night spent together while searching for a way to break the curse, Heath is fairly eager to go along.
Verdict The younger son who now must shoulder his clan’s responsibilities and the reserved yet intrepid Englishwoman who harbors a devastating secret find a love stronger than any superstition. A lovely conclusion to Maxwell’s trilogy; for all romance collections.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Ngugi, Mukoma Wa. Black Star Nairobi. Melville House, dist. by Random. (International Crime). Jun. 2013. 272p. ISBN 9781612192109. pap. $15.95. M
This sequel to Nairobi Heat follows two detectives in Kenya trying to stay within the law. American Ishmael and Luo O (Odhiambo) navigate carefully in a country brimming with ethnocentrism and civil war. Their detective agency, Black Star, is called in to investigate the murder of a John Doe dumped in the Ngong jungle. A hotel bombing is quickly linked to the dead man, along with four white Americans known by code names: Sahara, Tsavo, Kilimanjaro, and Serengeti. Before O and Ishmael can put the pieces together, someone they love is murdered. Instead of scaring the duo off, this act of violence incites rage and a new passion to capture the criminals responsible. The trail leads them to the United States via Mexico and asking for assistance in unsavory places.
Verdict This hard-boiled crime novel packs an intense amount of action within its fast-paced pages. The plot blurs or breaks off sometimes in the rush but overall makes for an interesting and unusual read. Fans of the first book as well as other gritty Africa-set thrillers by Deon Meyer or Roger Smith will enjoy this second installment with detectives O and Ishmael.—Jennifer Funk, McKendree Univ. Lib., Lebanon, IL

Osburn, Terri. Meant To Be: An Anchor Island Novel. Montlake Romance: Amazon. 2013. 330. ISBN 9781612183084. pap. $12.95. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
Beth Chandler is deathly afraid of the water, so ferrying over to Anchor Island off the coast of North Carolina to meet her fiancé’s family is a big deal until a huge dog and his very attractive owner distract her. When she realizes the guy is her fiancé’s brother, Beth is too embarrassed to introduce herself. Of course, all is revealed when Joe Dempsey arrives at this parents’ home to greet Lucas and Elizabeth. A difficult case drags Lucas back to Richmond, but he insists that Beth continue their “vacation,” with Joe as her guide. Charter boat captain Joe isn’t thrilled with the idea, but he doesn’t want to “rock the boat.” Beth discovers that she loves this wonderful enclave of small businesses and its quirky neighbors, so helping the residents fight overtures from a developer to sell gives her purpose. Meanwhile, Beth and Joe seem have found common ground.
Verdict An introspective man falls for a woman who has made a career out of fulfilling everyone’s needs but her own. The combination of beautiful island locale and offbeat characters will have readers setting sail for love in debut author Osburn’s series opener.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal

Bette-Lee Fox About Bette-Lee Fox

Bette-Lee Fox (blfox@mediasourceinc.com) is Managing Editor, Library Journal.

Now in her 46th year with Library Journal, Bette-Lee also edits LJ's Video Reviews column, six times a year Romance column, and e-original Romance reviews, which post weekly as LJ Xpress Reviews. She received the Romance Writers of America (RWA) Vivian Stephens Industry Award in 2013 for having "contributed to the genre or to RWA in a significant and/or continuing manner"