Fiction from Buckley, Debuter Daniels, Jacobson, McDermid, and Pye | Xpress Reviews

Week ending December 4, 2015

Buckley, Christopher. The Relic Master. S. & S. Dec. 2015. 400p. ISBN 9781501125751. $26.95; ebk. ISBN 9781501125782. F
relicmaster.jpg12315Buckley (Thank You for Smoking; Boomsday) departs from his usual fare of contemporary political satire to travel back in time to the 16th-century Holy Roman Empire. Dismas, a prosperous relics dealer who loses his fortune, concocts a scheme with his friend Albrecht Dürer to fabricate the burial cloth of Christ, known as the Shroud of Turin. When caught, the duo must then fetch the actual shroud with a gang of mercenaries. In this witty heist romp, Buckley’s seasoned pen punctures the quirks and absurdities of the time (such as the practice of selling religious relics). Stir in the church abuses that Martin Luther pops up to protest, various brutalities and tortures, and other oddities all inherent in the period, and the result is an unconventional and humorous look at church and world history.
Verdict The novel’s mock-epic style, colorful cast, and tone are reminiscent of Miguel de Cervante’s Don Quixote, and fans of comedy and adventure will find much to enjoy here. [See Prepub Alert, 6/8/15.]—Laurel Tacoma, Strayer Univ. Lib., Washington, DC

Daniels, Carol. Bearskin Diary. Nightwood Editions. 2015. 256p. ISBN 9780889713116. pap. $21.95; ebk. ISBN 9780889710771. F
[DEBUT] Daniels’s debut novel is deeply rooted in her personal experience as an Aboriginal woman in Canada. Told in interlocking short chapters, it follows Sandy Pelly, a young woman grappling with her identity. As a child, Sandy was swept up in the Sixties Scoop, in which the Canadian government took over 20,000 First Nations children from their parents and placed them in foster care with white families. Sandy was fortunate that her Ukrainian foster family was a loving one and adopted her. Nonetheless, racism and discrimination are a constant in her life. Her new job in a newsroom isn’t any different, but in facing bullying, racist coworkers, Sandy finds her own strength. She develops friendships with local Aboriginal people, which lead to a deeper understanding and integration of her heritage, and motivate her to investigate rumors of police abuse against Aboriginal women.
Verdict In this timely presentation of key issues in the Canadian Aboriginal experience, Daniels’s background as a journalist shows, both in the depth of detail and in the writing style. A solid pick for readers interested in native and/or women’s issues, as well as admirers of Canadian fiction.—Melanie Kindrachuk, Stratford P.L., Ont.

Jacobson, Alan. The Lost Codex. Open Road. 2015. 432p. ISBN 9781504003636. pap. $17.99; ebk. ISBN 9781504003629. F
Jacobsen reunites his “Karen Vail” series (Spectrum; The 7th Victim) characters once again in a thriller that spans geography and time. In 1953, a biblical manuscript goes missing at the same time that the Dead Sea Scrolls are discovered. In the present day, those artifacts have led to a spiral of violence and terrorism and it’s up to the members of the OPSIG Team to put all the pieces together and perhaps save the world. The team is made up of a disparate group of government operators, including FBI profiler Karen Vail, Special Forces veteran Hector Santos, and terrorism expert Aaron “Uzi” Uziel. After a bombing in Washington DC, the group is tasked with preventing future attacks and finding the stolen documents.
Verdict Jacobson’s latest is fast paced but suffers a bit from an excess of action. The author jumps from scene to scene and team to team, making it hard to connect the different plot threads, yet the ideas and connection to world events are solid.—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI

McDermid, Val. Splinter the Silence: A Tony Hill and Carol Jordan Novel. Atlantic Monthly. Dec. 2015. 416p. ISBN 9780802124081. $25; ebk. ISBN 9780802190932. F
splintersilence.jpg12315Former police officer Carol Jordan’s drinking is out of hand, and it is affecting her job prospects. Psychologist Tony Hill is the only person with a shot at getting her off the sauce. Partially as a distraction, Tony nurtures an idea with Carol that involves a pattern between two high-profile women who spoke out about men and crimes against women. Both women were harassed online and recently took their own lives. When a fluke gives Carol another chance at her career and another trolling victim commits suicide, the policewoman handpicks a team of her favorites to investigate—right under Detective Chief Inspector Fielding’s nose. It turns out that these three deaths have a few things in common, such as a murderer with a vendetta against outspoken women.
Verdict Employing a multiperspective narrative, McDermid (Cross and Burn) brings back the beloved Tony Hill and Carol Jordan for this ninth installment of the police procedural series. Readers familiar with the books will rejoice at the prospect of a new page-turning offering, while newcomers who enjoy Sara Paretsky and Laurie R. King will catch up quickly with the backstory.—Michelle Gilbert, Fox Lake District Lib., IL

Pye, Virginia. Dreams of the Red Phoenix. Unbridled. 2015. 288p. ISBN 9781609531232. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9781609531249. F
Isolated within an American missionary compound in remote northern China and grieving for her recently deceased husband, Shirley Carson hasn’t paid much attention to the political situation. It is 1937, and the Japanese army has moved in and is engaged in skirmishes with the rebel Chinese communist forces. A nurse by training, Shirley and her teenaged son, Charles, open their home to a stream of Chinese peasants fleeing the violence and wounded rebels. Shirley becomes immersed in caring for those brought to her by the enigmatic communist captain Hsu, and Charles is left to fend for himself in an increasingly dangerous environment. As the Carsons’ involvement with the communists deepens, they begin to uncover a secret life of the husband and father they thought they knew.
Verdict In a second novel that is part family drama and part spy thriller, Pye (River of Dust) combines Shirley’s social and cultural awakening and Charles’s coming-of-age journey with a riveting account of life in China—for both Chinese and Americans—on the eve of World War II. —Sarah Cohn, Manhattan Coll. Lib., Bronx, NY