Tons of Fiction: Burrowes, Campion, Clark, Harkaway, Mackin, Miller, Verdon, & Vollmann | Xpress Reviews

Week ending June 13, 2014

starred review starBraden, Kara. The Longest Night. Sourcebooks Casablanca. Jul. 2014. c.321p. ISBN 9781402291852. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402291869. CONTEMPORARY ROMANCE
longestnight061314Debut author Braden introduces us to Ian Fairchild, a Manhattan playboy forced to take a break from his law firm after a rough case results in an accident and an addiction to painkillers. Ian’s brother, Preston, a military contractor, calls on the one person he can trust—former U.S. Marine captain Cecily Knight—to take Ian in and give him the help the treatment centers could not provide. With that setup, readers might look to the traditional plot of the female caretaker saving the damaged philanderer; however, Braden soon reveals why Cecily is beholden to Preston Fairchild. Preston defied military codes of conduct to rescue Cecily after three days of torture and captivity in the Middle East, after which Cecily withdrew from society and retreated to the Canadian wilderness. Perhaps the wounded player can take on the role of caretaker to heal both of their hearts.
Verdict Watching this romance unfold from Ian’s point of view is refreshing and insightful. A stock womanizer soon unfolds into a complex hero. But as with all heroes, Ian has flaws and is all the more lovable for them. Savoring each page of this novel, this reviewer found the end unfolding a bit too quickly; still, with this first-time effort, Braden will soon amass a strong readership.—Heather Lisa Maneiro, Minnesota State Univ. Lib.‚ Moorhead

Burrowes, Grace. The Captive. Sourcebooks Casablanca. (Captive Hearts, Bk. 1). Jul. 2014. c.416p. ISBN 9781402278785. pap. $7.99; ebk. ISBN 9781402278792. HISTORICAL ROMANCE
Back in England after being captured and sadistically tortured by the French, Christian Severn, Duke of Mercia, slowly regains his health, fights to retain his ducal powers—and lives for revenge. He certainly doesn’t need the no-nonsense Gillian, Countess of Greendale and his late wife’s cousin, descending on him in his London townhouse, letting him know that his young daughter desperately needs him and insisting he return to his country estate. But Gilly is right; Lucy does need him, and he needs her—and as it turns out, he needs Gilly, as well. A hard-hitting, compelling, and haunting story of courage, betrayal, hope, and acceptance—if not quite forgiveness—that readers won’t soon forget.
Verdict Uncomfortable, appallingly brutal historical realities ring true as a pair of determined, resilient, and perfect-for-each-other protagonists struggle to come to terms with the past and find healing in the present in an emotionally intense story that is the first of a back-to-back series featuring war-damaged heroes and the women strong enough to love them. Burrowes (The MacGregor’s Lady) lives in rural Maryland.—Kristin Ramsdell, emerita, California State Univ. Lib.–East Bay

Campion, Alexander. Murder on the Mediterranean: A Capucine Culinary Mystery. Kensington. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780758268839. $24; ebk. ISBN 9781617733192. MYS
In Campion’s fifth entry in his culinary mystery series (after Death of a Chef), French policewoman Capucine and her restaurant critic husband, Alexandre, attempt to go on a sailing vacation with friends. They plan to sail to Italy and experience some amazing food and wine along the way, but the trip soon takes a fatal turn when Nathalie, the local woman they hired to cook and clean, falls overboard. The Italian police view Nathalie’s death as an unfortunate accident until new evidence implicates Capucine. When the Italians decide the incident actually occurred in French waters and hand the case over to the French police, Capucine and Alexandre make a swift exit off the sailboat in a dinghy to avoid arrest. They hide (and eat superb food) in the south of France while Capucine tries to find out what really happened to Nathalie. As Capucine uncovers the disturbing secrets of her sailing mates and their ties to corrupt politicians, she begins to piece together what transpired on the boat.
Verdict Fans of the series, Francophiles, and readers with an appreciation for gourmet food will most enjoy this earthy mystery full of indulgences of all kinds.—Melissa DeWild, Kent Dist. Lib., Comstock Park, MI

Clark, Marcia. The Competition: A Rachel Knight Novel. Mulholland: Little, Brown. Jul. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780316220972. $26; ebk. ISBN 9780316220989. MYS
Indiscriminate gunfire resulting in a terrible high school massacre in California’s San Fernando Valley is just the start of a complex case for L.A. Special Trials prosecutor Rachel Knight and Det. Bailey Keller. The shooters had the macabre goal of beating the Columbine killers’ gruesome death toll, and initially it is thought that the marauders had completed their task by committing suicide. But it soon becomes clear that the suicides were staged, that the gunmen are still on the loose, and that they are planning to continue the grisly “competition.” When someone starts dropping clues that another horrific mass shooting is in the works, Rachel and Bailey scramble desperately to profile their suspects and prevent another bloodbath.
Verdict Fans of police procedurals will want to read this latest work in Clark’s Rachel Knight (Guilt by Association) series. The real-life prosecutor in the O.J. Simpson case and other high-profile prosecutions in Los Angeles, Clark brings a deep and broad knowledge of police and prosecutorial methodology to her story, though her novel’s sometimes plodding pace renders it not necessarily among the best in the series. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Vicki Gregory, Sch. of Information, Univ. of South Florida, Tampa

Dybek, Stuart. Ecstatic Cahoots: Fifty Short Stories. ISBN 9780374280505. pap. $14.
Dybek, Stuart. Paper Lantern: Love Stories. ISBN 9780374146443. $24.
ea. vol: Farrar. Jun. 2014. 208p. F
paperlantern061314Two new simultaneously published volumes by PEN/Malamud & O. Henry Award winner Dybek are a reason to celebrate. Taking its title from The Great Gatsby, in the voice of Nick Carraway (“First he nodded politely, and then his face broke into that radiant and understanding smile, as if we’d been in ecstatic cahoots on that fact all the time”), Ecstatic Cahoots can be loosely described as flash fiction, whereas Paper Lantern contains narratives of a more conventional short story length. The “short short” pieces in Ecstatic Cahoots were written over several decades and are collected here for the first time. Some are no more than a sentence or two and feel more like aphorisms or jokes (good ones, fortunately). Here, for example, is “Misterioso” in full: “ ‘You’re going to leave your watch on?’ ‘You’re leaving on your cross?’ ” These lines then recur in a longer piece called “Marvelous Encounters of My Life.” Other works in this collection, by virtue of their lyric intensity and dreamlike associations, remind us that Dybek started off as a poet (Brass Knuckles, 1979).
Cahoots is a marvelous word that comes up again in Paper Lantern as the name of an oddball theatrical troupe in the story “Tosca,” which, like the opera of the same name, features an execution by firing squad, a dramatic opener for these stories, whose characters often seem to experience life on an operatic scale. The title of one, “Oceanic,” refers not only to a woman’s sexual climax through kissing but also to a dream motif involving a lifeguard and a white horse on a deserted beach. Another story “writ large” is “The Caller,” which features a fellow named Rafael who spray paints oversize portraits of his lady loves on the walls of his small Chicago apartment but refuses to create a similar artwork on commission from a crazy rich lady from the suburbs who rides into the barrio on her Harley.
Verdict These two collections share many themes and settings (most prominently Dybek’s native Chicago), which makes reading them together a great opportunity for readers to get to know the author. However, Ecstatic Cahoots on its own presents such a mixed bag that it never gains sufficient momentum for the reader to keep turning the pages, while Paper Lantern starts with gunshots and never lets go.—Sue Russell, Bryn Mawr, PA

Harkaway, Nick. Tigerman. Knopf. Jul. 2014. 368p. ISBN 9780385352413. $26.95. F
Battle-weary, no-nonsense Sgt. Lester Ferris is given a cushy, noncombatant role as British consul on the island of Mancreu, somewhere between Asia and Africa. Mancreu is in its death throes, the entire island having been poisoned by the waste from a Western chemical plant and now scheduled for destruction to contain the ecological disaster. Meanwhile, the renegade international “Black Fleet” hovers offshore, engaging in various unspoken, nefarious deeds as it takes advantage of the island’s unusual status. As Lester tries to keep his head down in his largely ceremonial role, he develops a strong attachment to a bright, spirited local boy with a fondness for comic books and dares to dream that he might be able to adopt him when the final evacuations are complete. As the island quickly slides into lawlessness near its scheduled demise, the novel morphs into a sort of comic book itself, complete with cartoonish villains and Lester as a masked superhero, a role he initially takes on to impress the boy.
Verdict The clever conceit here is achieved with a hefty dose of humor and cynicism. Harkaway (Angelmaker) has created an immensely likable hero who rises to the occasion in amusing and spectacularly improbable fashion.—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY

Holt, Jonathan. The Abduction. Harper. Jun. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780062267047. $26.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062267061. F
Holt’s second book in his “Carnivia” trilogy (after The Abomination) accelerates the action and intensifies the violence as the original trio of U.S. Army Second Lt. Holly Boland, Capt. Kat Tapo of the Venice Carabiniere, and Daniele Barbo, programmer of, begin a desperate search to find a U.S. Army major’s kidnapped teenage daughter, snatched during a Venice carnival. The girl’s captivity and torture are posted on the Internet and parallels with known CIA detention policy toward its prisoners. At the same time Col. Aldo Piola is investigating the skeletal remains unearthed by protestors at a construction site for a new U.S. Army military base in northern Italy. Soon it becomes apparent that these two cases share a link and that solving the mystery of the buried remains may lead to the reason behind the abduction.
Verdict Recommended for fans who want to follow the continuing adventures of the main characters and those who track conspiracy theories. A corresponding website——is available.—Deb West, Gannon Univ. Lib., Erie, PA

starred review starMackin, Jeanne. The Beautiful American. NAL. Jun. 2014. 384p. ISBN 9780451465825. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781101635629. F
beautifulamerican061314This latest historical novel by award-winning journalist and author Mackin (The Frenchwoman) is a fictional account of American model-turned-photographer Lee Miller and her friend Nora Tours, a skillfully created character who narrates the novel. Childhood friends in Poughkeepsie, NY, Nora and Lee meet again during the fashionable days of 1920s Paris, where both are living as expats, and later in London at the end of World War II. While a betrayal threatens their friendship, a shared secret from the past brings the two women together once more. In Paris, Nora lives blissfully with her childhood sweetheart, the two lovers hopeful that the French city will fulfill their dreams, while glamorous Lee has become the legendary mistress of the artist Man Ray, spending her days with famed artists and the Parisian upper crust. After the war, Nora’s desperate search for her missing daughter takes her to London, where she bumps into Lee, an unexpected reunion that will alter their lives forever.
Verdict Mackin’s ability to re-create history and to create believable characters and situations makes her new work a transfixing story that is hard to put down. Sure to be loved by fans of Mackin and of the historical novel; very highly recommended.—Lisa Block, Atlanta

starred review starMiller, Sue. The Arsonist. Knopf. Jul. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780307594792. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385351706. F
Frankie Rowley is at loose ends. After 15 years of aid work in Africa—15 years of countless intense, go-nowhere relationships—she returns to her family’s summer compound in Pomeroy, NH, one summer in the late 1990s to recharge and figure out next steps. Rest and relaxation are not in the cards for, as Frankie quickly learns, her father is losing himself to dementia and her resentful but duty-bound mother needs help. Bud Jacobs, who fled two failed marriages and his high-intensity Washington life as a journalist for the Denver Post, has been editor and publisher of the Pomeroy Union for the past three years. He is thriving in Pomeroy, well liked by those who appreciate the job he is doing on the paper. These two intelligent souls, much better at the professional than the personal, are thrown together when, restless and jetlagged on her first night home, Frankie may have witnessed an elusive arsonist fleeing from the first in a terrifying string of fires that attack the homes of the summer people and Bud covers the stories.
Verdict As the fires and the passionate attraction between Bud and Frankie burn hotter, Miller works her usual storytelling magic, immersing her readers in the powerful cocktail of fear and uncertainty–whether that mixture cracks a once-tight community or threatens the human heart. [See Prepub Alert, 1/6/14.]—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor. MI

Nichol, Christina. Waiting for the Electricity. Overlook. Jun. 2014. 336p. ISBN 9781468306866. $26.95. F
You can draw a line from Kafka to Gary Shteyngart’s Absurdistan straight to this wonderful new debut novel, which hilariously depicts life in politically corrupt, dysfunctional post-Soviet Georgia. The story is told in the dead-pan voice of hapless maritime lawyer Slims Achmed Makashvili (his parents yearned to be multicultural), who has dreams both modest and grand: reliable electricity, winning over his girl, actually getting paid for his job, saving his country, or escaping to the United States. Horrified by the Black Sea’s environmental destruction, he pens plaintive letters to Hillary Clinton (oddly, since the book is set during the George W. Bush administration). He manages to land a start-up grant that takes him to San Francisco, where he’s housed with the program administrator’s hippie brother, who provides a less than stellar introduction to American culture. Soon, Slims is back in Georgia where he witnesses the hopefulness of the Rose Revolution and then sees corruption bloom again.
Verdict This book reads like a sitcom in top form but with sophisticated global themes that will shake American readers out of our insular worldviews. As Slims says, America has yet to see the end of civilization, which means that, unlike Georgia, we are not a very modern country.—Reba Leiding, formerly with James Madison Univ. Libs., Harrisonburg, VA

O’Neill, Heather. The Girl Who Was Saturday Night. Farrar. Jun. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780374162665. $26. F
This quirky novel is O’Neill’s second after the critically acclaimed Lullabies of Little Criminals, released in 2006 and also set in the author’s native Montreal. Journalist O’Neill frequently contributes to This American Life, which may account for her love of whimsical and unusual characters. Here she tells the story of 19-year-old Nouschka Tremblay, daughter of a famous French Canadian chanteur. Nouschka and twin brother Nicholas have shared an intimate relationship since birth, with few rules or parental attention, and are recognized wherever they go, often appearing in the tabloids for their drunken escapades. They take many lovers before she unpredictably chooses a husband: a former child star figure skater on parole for hoarding dogs. While Nouschka works and goes to school sporadically, her main role is taking care of her family and carving out an identity for herself outside of them.
Verdict With chapters mostly three pages or less, the narrative moves at a quick pace, much as early adulthood seems to move. Unfortunately, it also suffers from the same self-importance and melodrama of that age. Readers who seek out complex narrators, coming-of-age dilemmas, and dysfunctional family sagas will enjoy this novel. [See Prepub Alert, 12/16/13.]—Kate Gray, Worcester P.L., MA

Peace, David. Red or Dead. Melville. 2014. 736p. ISBN 9781612193687. $30. F
A 2003 Granta Best of Young British Novelists, Peace (“Red Riding Quartet”) explores real-life figure Bill Shankly, his methodical obsession with football (soccer to Americans), and his tenure as manager at the Liverpool Football Club. Selfless and larger-than-life Shankly contributed much to the club, leading it to previously unattainable championships. This novel shows the epic arc of his career, but it does so by using a curiously dogged and repetitious prose style. The question arises: Does this repetitious prose work? Or is it merely impenetrable? Alas, the reading experience is laborious, creating a strangely intimate relationship with the life of Bill Shankly, as shared suffering will often do.
Verdict The coverage of Shankly’s career after retirement and his dialog with Harold Wilson, then British prime minister, are very successful, and this novel explains much about British and European football to the uninitiated, with descriptions of the cheering section known as the “Spion Kop” particularly of note. Perhaps appropriate reading during World Cup mania, but whether most readers will have the stamina of Bill Shankly to finish this mighty tome remains in doubt.—Henry Bankhead, Los Gatos Lib., CA

starred review starVerdon, John. Peter Pan Must Die. Crown. Jul. 2014. 448p. ISBN 9780385348409. $25. F
peterpanmustdie061314Retired NYPD detective Dave Gurney agrees to investigate a murder with Jack Hardwick to repay a debt for Jack’s collaboration on a case when Jack worked for the State Police Bureau of Investigation. But as Dave delves deeper into this crime in which a woman was found guilty of killing her unscrupulous multimillionaire husband, he becomes obsessed with solving the intricacies of the puzzle and identifying the real killer. Dave and Jack are immersed in an investigation that exposes family secrets, judicial corruption, mob activity, a bloodthirsty media, and a ruthless international assassin named Peter Pan. As Dave slowly pieces together the clues, he finds that it just might be necessary to place himself in the line of fire to snare an elusive killer.
Verdon’s fourth Dave Gurney thriller (after Let the Devil Sleep) weaves a sophisticated and edgy web of suspense that mystery aficionados will love to help unravel. A taut plot filled with clever intrigue and unexpected twists will tantalize readers until its dramatic and startling conclusion. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Mary Todd Chesnut, Northern Kentucky Univ. Lib., Highland Heights

starred review starVollmann, William T. Last Stories and Other Stories. Viking. Jul. 2014. 679p. ISBN 9780670015979. $36. F
This collection from National Book Award winner Vollmann (Europe Central) starts off deceptively with a series of realist short stories set during the 1990s Yugoslav wars and centered on a young American journalist covering the conflict. That Sarajevo is a front line of the war and leading a normal life there an absurd expectation is as surreal as it gets. The rest of the collection goes in another direction, with dark fairy tales and ghost stories based on folklore and mythological traditions from around the globe. There is something for all fans of fantasy and horror, including vampires in Bohemia, trolls in Norway, and paper ghosts in Japan, and in Mexico we meet both La Llorona and a one-breasted tribe of Amazons. It is a worldwide tour of the creepy, macabre, and grotesque with walking statues, living skeletons, and secret passageways to cities of the dead.
Verdict The writing is atmospheric, otherworldly, and highly accessible, and the nine geographical sections can be read as stand-alone pieces, so that the book’s overall length shouldn’t seem scary. An excellent introduction to Vollmann that should appeal not only to literary types but also to readers either unfamiliar with his work or intimidated by his reputation. [See Prepub Alert, 1/10/14.]—Pamela Mann, St. Mary’s Coll. Lib., St. Mary’s City, MD

Yejidé, Morowa. Time of the Locust. Atria. Jun. 2014. 256p. ISBN 9781476731353. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781476731377. F
It’s 1986, and Brenda Thompson is raising her autistic son, Sephiri, alone in Washington, DC. Her ex-husband, Horus, is serving a life sentence for the murder of the man who killed his civil rights activist father and has never met his seven-year-old offspring. Brenda overeats to self-medicate as she struggles to reach her Sephiri, who often rages against frustrations he cannot express. Sephiri’s rich interior world is full of underwater creatures and adventure and, lately, glimpses of a landscape eerily similar to that of the Rocky Mountain–area penitentiary where Horus suffers in solitary confinement and has visions of his own that parallel Sephiri’s.
Verdict Debut novelist and short story writer Yejidé has given us a haunting and magical tale of bondage, loss, and hope through the eyes of parents and child, conveyed with a deft balance of lyricism and gritty reality. Though this is at heart a mother’s story, and Brenda’s strength and struggle deserve attention, the alternating voices allow the work to touch on the many consequences of autism within a family.—Ashanti White, Yelm, WA