Xpress Reviews: Fiction | First Look at New Books, February 28, 2014

Week ending February 28, 2014

Duisberg, Kristin Waterfield. After. Engine. Feb. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9781938126222. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781938126239. F
New Hampshire author Duisberg’s (The Good Patient) second novel flips the familiar story of the life of a vaguely dissatisfied, well-off suburban wife and mother on its ear by having her main character, Nina, discover a lump in her breast on the first page. Readers follow 43-year-old Nina through her aggressive cancer treatment—with its attendant concerns and fears—and her efforts to maintain normal family life. The story occasionally switches perspective to Nina’s 65-year-old, German-born doctor-husband, Martin, who has an undisclosed past, and their serious-minded, obsessive, young daughter, Audrey, who has trouble fitting in with her peers. Nina’s best friend Jenny and Todd, the handsome father whom Nina becomes friendly with at Audrey’s private school, are not as fully drawn, but it’s Nina and her family’s interior struggles to understand one another’s past, present state of mind, and possible future that drive the story.
Verdict Recommend this psychological study of an upper-middle-class Massachusetts family dealing with past grief and facing present loss to readers of character-driven literary fiction by authors such as Sue Miller, Ann Patchett, and Stewart O’Nan.—Laurie Cavanaugh, Holmes P.L., Halifax, MA

starred review starLautner, Robert. Road to Reckoning. Touchstone. Feb. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781476731636. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781476731650. F
roadtoreckoning022814Thomas Walker learned the hard way that if a man chooses to carry a gun, he will get shot. After his father, a Colt revolver salesman, is murdered, 12-year-old Thomas aims to make his way through Pennsylvania to New York City, where his aunt will give him shelter. He latches on to big, blustery Henry Stands, a former Indiana Ranger who is initially opposed to the boy’s company. Their on-and-off journey together becomes the stuff of legend. Looking back at this troubled period of his life, having lost two sons during the Civil War, Thomas recalls his near death at the hands of a cave-dwelling cannibal, shoot-outs with his father’s killer, and many other fractious adventures. Applying the wisdom of adulthood to his suspenseful story, Thomas more than proves his mettle.
Verdict Lautner’s first novel is lively as a pepperbox, bursting with action and appeal. It is sure to become a classic in the tradition of Charles Portis’s True Grit or Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses.—Keddy Ann Outlaw, Houston

Leonard, Peter. Eyes Closed Tight. Story Plant. Mar. 2014. 300p. ISBN 9781611881141. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781611881158. MYS
A case from his past comes back to haunt a former Detroit homicide investigator in this well-paced, tightly constructed thriller. O’Clair is comfortable in his Florida retirement running a motel in Pompano Beach, until the morning he finds a woman dead on the beach. When it happens again, O’Clair makes the connection to a past case and quickly inserts himself into the investigation. Working with his former partner at the Detroit PD, O’Clair must figure out what they did wrong the first time around, before any more women, including his much younger girlfriend, are harmed. The dialog among characters feels authentic, with no overdone prose. Leonard applies this same approach to action scenes, resulting in a thriller with a more realistic feel than many others.
Verdict While he will always face comparisons with his legendary father, Elmore Leonard, the author (Quiver; Trust Me; Voices of the Dead; All He Saw Was the Girl) continues to establish himself as one of today’s better mystery writers. Easily readable in a single sitting, Leonard’s fifth novel will appeal to fans of mystery, thrillers, and the Leonard name.—Craig Shufelt, Fort Erie P.L., Ont.

Persson, Leif G.W. Free Falling, As If in a Dream: The Story of a Crime. Pantheon. Feb. 2014. 608p. tr. from Swedish by Paul Norlen. ISBN 9780307377470. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780307907851. F
Persson concludes his trilogy (Another Time, Another Life; Between Summer’s Longing and Winter’s End) about the assassination of Swedish prime minister Olof Palme on February 28, 1986, a case that was never solved but now is, though only as fiction. It is a meticulous reconstruction of the investigation of a highly sensitive case, long since past but now reopened. More than any other series of police procedurals today, Persson’s exceptional novels show how cops actually pursue a difficult investigation, the thousands of steps and missteps that occur en route. The detectives are competent and human, with interesting quirks; their boss Lars Martin Johannsson, chief of the National Bureau of Criminal Investigation, is a veritable bloodhound once he gets a notion in his head. In the process of narrating this fascinating tale, Persson makes telling comments about the pernicious influence of the police presence in Sweden and paints an uproariously funny portrait of a very bad cop—venal, xenophobic, work-averse, and a liar—who attempts to force his way into the case with disastrous consequences. (For himself, of course.)
Verdict Readers who enjoy Scandinavian crime fiction will love Persson’s climactic volume in a series that may be the best around. [Interestingly, the late Swedish journalist and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo author Stieg Larsson may have cracked the case; according to the Guardian (bit.ly/1fLJ3Sg), a Swedish newspaper recently reported that Larsson left 15 boxes of papers for the police supporting his claim that South African security forces were involved in the crime.—Ed.]—David Keymer, Modesto, CA