Barclay, Carter, Falco, Girard, Lehane, & Wax on the Fiction Trail | Xpress Reviews

Week ending August 8, 2014

Barclay, Linwood. No Safe House. NAL. Aug. 2014. 464p. ISBN 9780451414205. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9780698146884. F
A Connecticut town becomes Murder Central in this sequel set seven years after Barclay’s 2008 best-selling No Time for Goodbye, in which Cynthia Archer learned the truth about the sudden disappearance of her parents and brother that occurred 25 years earlier, when she was 14. Here she’s still dealing with that trauma. Her own daughter, Grace, is now 14, and Cynthia has become such a helicopter mom that she’s temporarily moved out of the family home, leaving her husband, Terry, to handle things. One night Grace inadvertently becomes involved in the money-making scheme of career criminal Vince Fleming, Cynthia’s former high school friend, at the same time that people who want something that Vince may have will go to any lengths to get it. As Terry tries to protect Grace while still doing what’s right, he’s pulled into the mayhem that ensues as the body count hits double digits.
Verdict Despite the plethora of coincidences and remarkably few degrees of separation among characters, this is a welcome return to the Archer family. A compulsively readable thriller that’s likely to be another hit for Barclay.—Michele Leber, Arlington, VA

Carter, Stephen L. Back Channel. Knopf. Aug. 2014. ISBN 9780385349604. $27.95; ebk. ISBN 9780385349611. F
In 1962, beautiful, brilliant Margo Jensen, an African American student at Cornell, is recruited by the federal government to assist in an undercover operation in Bulgaria aimed at obtaining information about the Soviet Union’s as yet unidentified shipments to Cuba. Returning home after being briefly detained, she is contacted by one of her captors, who wants her to serve as a messenger between Kennedy and Khrushchev in secret negotiations concerning the nuclear weapons being shipped. She agrees, adopting somewhat reluctantly the cover story that she is the latest young woman with whom Kennedy is having an affair. Unfortunately, she’s unaware that many people on both sides suspect her real purpose and are doing everything they can to sabotage her efforts and instigate a war.
Verdict Best-selling author Carter (Emperor of Ocean Park) constructs a low-key spy thriller that’s both believable and intelligent, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. The interesting perspectives on Margo’s upper-class African American roots and Kennedy’s charming yet aloof personality are among many touches that add depth to this engaging novel. [See Prepub Alert, 5/19/14.]—Jim Coan, SUNY Coll. Lib. at Oneonta

Falco, Ed. Toughs. Unbridled. Aug. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9781609531119. pap. $17.95; ebk. ISBN 9781609531126. F
Violence, booze, and sex come together in this blood-soaked tale of the Great Depression, loosely based on the life of Irish mobster Vincent Coll. Falco (The Family Corleone) begins his story with the accidental murder of five-year-old Michael Vingelli during an assassination attempt gone horribly wrong. Several children are shot, but the original target, Richie Cabo, survives. Our main character, Loretto Jones, has thrown his lot in with the shooter, gangster Vince “Mad Dog” Coll. At stake is a healthy share in the Prohibition-era booze business and with it desperately needed income during some very lean times. A novel with this many bodies could get repetitive and lose its punch after a while. That never happens here, thanks to a blistering pace, well-rounded characters, and moral dilemmas that are never pat. In the end, the reader understands that these men shoot and murder because they need the job (or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time), not because they love the killing.
Verdict Recommend to fans of The Godfather books, historical fiction, and those who like their novels with a lot of action and a bit more substance.—Liz Kirchhoff, Barrington Area Lib., IL

Girard, Anne. Madame Picasso. Mira: Harlequin. Sept. 2014. 432p. ISBN 9780778316350. pap. $14.95; ebk. ISBN 9781460330289. F
madamepicasso080814Pablo Picasso was a famous womanizer, taking many lovers and fathering children in his sixties. One of his earliest mistresses, Eva Gouel, was the subject of his Ma Jolie and J’aime Eva paintings but remains mysterious, apart from her tragic young death. Girard (pseudonym for historical fiction novelist Diane Haeger) uses letters Eva wrote to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas to flesh out this innocent but spirited young woman and draws on Eva’s perspective to tell the story of her intense, passionate love affair with Picasso. The descriptions of the affair are steamy without being overly explicit, and readers interested in pre–World War I Paris will delight in the depiction of the period’s culture and events (the Moulin Rouge, cloche hats, bobbed hair, and the theft of the Mona Lisa from the Louvre for which Picasso was briefly accused). Art and literature enthusiasts will enjoy the abundance of famous people who have walk-on roles (Matisse, Max Jacob, Gertrude Stein, Apollinaire).
Verdict This is an enjoyable love story with lots to learn about little-known Eva, Picasso, art history, and Paris of a century ago. Have an art book handy as you read to look up the paintings. A good choice for book clubs, too.—Jan Marry, Williamsburg Regional Lib., VA

Lehane, Dennis. The Drop. Morrow. Sept. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9780062365576. $19.99; pap. ISBN 9780062365446. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062365484. F
Two days after Christmas, as Bob Saginowski is walking home from his late-night shift at Cousin Marv’s Bar, he hears whimpering emanating from a garbage can. He finds under the debris, a bleeding, beaten puppy. Nadia, the occupant of a nearby house, offers to help clean up the canine, ultimately named Rocco after the patron saint of dogs. Both lonely, Nadia and Bob soon form a relationship. When the bar, previously owned by Bob’s cousin Marv but now owned by Chechen mobsters and used as a drop for mob cash, is robbed the following night, the Chechens strongly advise Marv and Bob to recover the money or suffer serious consequences. To make matters worse for Bob, the dog’s psychotic previous owner, Eric, wants it back and threatens Bob, Nadia, and Rocco. It is the relationship among all these characters that drives the plot.
Verdict This expansion of the disjointed Lehane story “Animal Rescue,” which was anthologized in Boston Noir, is a disjointed novel. The characters, all harboring deep, dark secrets and desires, are not overly interesting. The predictable plot and ending contain little “noir” and less suspense. This is for stalwart Lehane fans only, although there might be additional interest owing to the September release of the film adaptation staring Tom Hardy, the late James Gandolfini, and Noomi Rapace, with the screenplay by Lehane ( [One of Barbara Hoffert’s “Books That Buzzed at the American Library Conference in Las Vegas,” 7/7/14;—Ed.]—Edward Goldberg, Syosset P.L., NY

Wax, Wendy. The House on Mermaid Point. Berkley. 2014. 416p. ISBN 9780425263327. pap. $15; ebk. ISBN 9781101599402. F
Madeline, Avery, and Nikki are now the best of friends, though their first meeting was unexpected. Coastal Florida and this group of feisty females have already been featured in two of Wax’s past novels (Ten Beach Road and Ocean Beach). The ladies have restored mansions of the formerly famous for new purposes, all while being filmed by a local television station. The director of Do Over, their reality show, throws obstacles in their path in hopes of enticing new viewers. One major roadblock is rock and roll legend and owner of the island William “the Wild” Hightower, who is angered by the construction plans and the intrusion on his time and property. Meanwhile, he is intrigued by newly separated Maddie, whose teenage fantasies once featured William. Romance, celebrity, friendships, and mother-daughter relationships all play key roles in this quick summer read.
Verdict Though the plot contains few surprises, this book is a fair read for beachgoers who are willing to forgo substance in favor of a “lifestyles of the rich and famous” saga. Recommended for fans of Wax.—Julia M. Reffner, Fairport, NY