Fiction from de Giovanni, Freeman, & Pye, Pulp Fiction, & Romance from Rodale | Xpress Reviews

Week ending April 25, 2014

starred review starDe Giovanni, Maurizio. The Day of the Dead: The Autumn of Commissario Ricciardi. Europa. (World Noir). Apr. 2014. 366p. tr. from Italian by Antony Shugaar. ISBN 9781609451875. pap. $18; ebk. ISBN 9781609451943. MYS
dayofthedead042514In his fourth (and hopefully not final) seasonal outing (after Everyone in Their Place: The Summer of Commissario Ricciardi), the Neapolitan inspector investigates the death of a scugnizzo, or street urchin, whose body was found sitting in the cold rain at the foot of a staircase, guarded only by a small dog. The corpse shows no signs of violence, and Ricciardi, who has the ability to see a murder victim’s final moments, is stumped. “He instinctively looked around and saw no trace of ghostly images: the child’s death couldn’t have been a violent one; perhaps he’d frozen to death, or starved, or succumbed to some disease.” Yet Ricciardi senses something is off and decides to pursue the case despite objections from church officials (a local parish priest had been caring for the boy) and his own sycophantic boss, who wants to make a good impression for the impending state visit of Benito Mussolini. Meanwhile, the two women in Ricciardi’s life pursue him in very different ways.
Verdict Shugaar’s elegant translation captures the chilly melancholy of a city, a people, and a country gripped by a bleak autumn, economic depression, and political repression. The green-eyed Ricciardi is a fascinating and complicated sleuth, haunted by his “gift,” but this time his quest for justice leads to a devastating, heartbreaking conclusion. A superb novel for fans of Italian noir.—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

Francis-Sharma, Lauren. ’Til the Well Runs Dry. Holt. May 2014. 400p. ISBN 9780805098037. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780805098044. F
Francis-Sharma’s first novel tells the story of Marcia Garcia, a Trinidadian seamstress with a troubled family history and two young boys to raise. The story starts in 1943, when Marcia marries a young police officer named Farouk Karam and follows their relationship along its rocky path through 1965. Most of her life, Marcia struggles to nurture their now four kids single-handedly while protecting her many secrets, as Farouk lives in a nearby city and deals with problems of his own. Eventually, Marcia makes a risky and courageous decision, which she hopes will save her family from the same struggles that life has dealt her. The chapters are alternately narrated by Marcia, Farouk, and their daughter, Jacqueline, thereby giving the reader a chance to understand each character thoroughly.
Verdict The author does an excellent job of developing her characters and expressing the difficulties of their lives, while providing the reader with authentic Trinidadian touches. An excellent book for fans of historical fiction and Caribbean tales, this will also be appreciated by those who enjoy following characters through large segments of their life, rather than just viewing a snapshot of time.—Katie Wernz, Kent State Univ. Lib., OH

Freeman, Kimberly. Ember Island. Touchstone. Apr. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9781476743509. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781476743530. F
Dual alternating stories of love and betrayal play out across the centuries on the fictional Ember Island in Australia. In 1891, Tilly arrives on the island to assume governess duties for the precocious Nell Holt, daughter of Sterling Holt, the superintendent of the island prison. It’s an isolated existence, perfect for a woman fleeing the horrific circumstances of her failed marriage and needing to hide her identity. Soon, though, Tilly finds herself growing to love the Holts and begins to hope she may still have a chance at real love and a family—until her friendship with a prisoner threatens to ruin it all. In 2012, Nina Jones is also fleeing a relationship and looming publishing deadlines for her latest book. She, too, retreats to Ember Island, staying at the house where her great-grandmother Nell Holt grew up. Renovations at the house bring to light some of Nell’s old diaries and also a distraction in the form of hot handyman Joe. Both women struggle to overcome past hurts and reveal their secrets as they seek happiness.
Verdict While the historical plot is stronger than the present one, both are engaging stories of women finding self-confidence and love in an intriguing setting. Australian women’s fiction author Freeman (Wildflower Hill; Lighthouse Bay) also writes fantasy under her real name, Kim Wilkins.—Melissa DeWild, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI

The New Mammoth Book of Pulp Fiction. Running Pr. Apr. 2014. 512p. ed. by Maxim Jakubowski. ISBN 9780762452217. pap. $13.95; ebk. ISBN 9781472111807. MYS
The Golden Age of pulp mysteries spanned the 1920s to the 1940s and conjures up visions of Philip Marlowe, Sam Spade, and other wisecracking hard-boiled private eyes. This collection of 33 stories covers publications from 1929 through 1989, with only a handful written during the pulp fiction heyday. Few of the authors are those who defined the genre, and the stories lack the fast, terse language of the original pulps. However, most of these action-packed and well-written stories are by some of mystery’s best writers, including Bill Pronzini, Donald Westlake, and Lawrence Block. There are honest cops and crooked ones, bank robbers, double-crossing dames, murderers, and even one vampire. Many have not been previously collected in mystery anthologies.
Verdict One troubling feature here is that there seems to be no rationale for the order of the pieces, and a “nice to have” would have been short author biographies, since many of the writers, such as Dashiell Hammett, had unusual backgrounds. Clearly the bibles of older pulp mysteries are Otto Penzler’s The Black Lizard Big Book of the Pulps and The Black Lizard Big Book of Black Mask Stories. However, this anthology may attract pulp fiction fans interested in more contemporary interpretations.—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Pye, Virginia. River of Dust. Unbridled. May 2014. 288p. ISBN 9781609530938. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781609530945. F
riverofdust042514Among the first missionaries to return to China after the Boxer Rebellion of 1900, Rev. John Watson and his wife, Grace, face the hardships of an unyielding landscape and a culture decidedly different from that of the American Midwest. As they travel on the outskirts of the Gobi Desert, their only son is kidnapped, swept away by two riders on horseback who leave only a small child’s skull in their wake. With the help of two Chinese servants, one a Christian convert and one a believer in the “old ways,” the John and Grace begin an all-consuming search for their son that dramatically alters their relationship to each other, to their faith, and to China.
Verdict This haunting first novel describes the compelling transformation of both Grace and John from upstanding missionaries to desperate seekers. It also captures the tension—and violence—between American missionaries and those they hope to convert. For fans of literary fiction and readers looking for a strong emotional narrative.—Sarah Cohn, Manhattan Coll. Lib., Bronx, NY

Rodale, Maya. Wallflower Gone Wild. Avon. (Wallflower, Bk. 2). Apr. 2014. 357p. ISBN 9780062231260. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062231239. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
The construction of the mathematical device known as the Difference Engine is what brings Phinneas Cole, Baron Radcliffe, to London from Yorkshire. Yet when he spies a beautiful young woman at a ball, he sets in motion the other reason he’s come to town: to find a bride. Lady Olivia Archer is not happy, though, when her parents present the offer as a fait accompli. Olivia might be on her fourth season and referred to as Prissy Missy by the ton, but shouldn’t she be allowed to seek her own mate? Maybe the gossips have the right of it, and the Mad Baron did murder his first wife. Olivia is terrified she’ll end up the same way, so she proceeds to demonstrate a passion for scandal in the hopes of altering his marriage plans. Adhering to society’s, and her mother’s, strictures has never been a comfortable fit for Olivia, but behaving with wild abandon doesn’t seem quite right either. Can she and Phinn determine the perfect balance between his temper and her compliance in order to lose their hearts?
Verdict This second book in Rodale’s “Wallflower” series (after The Wicked Wallflower) brings together again the graduates of Lady Penelope’s Finishing School for Young Ladies of Fine Families in an enchanting story of miscalculations that ultimately lead to love. For all romance collections.—Bette-Lee Fox, Library Journal