Fiction from Hogan, Kane, and Lewis, plus Two Debuts | Xpress Reviews

Week ending May 27, 2016

Hogan, Mary. The Woman in the Photo. Morrow. Jun. 2016. 432p. ISBN 9780062386939. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062386946. F
The day after Memorial Day 1889, 20 million tons of water careened downhill to Johnstown, PA, washing away the city, along with 2,000 of its residents. The tragedy occurred when a dam built for the recreation of members of the exclusive South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club broke. This tragedy links Elizabeth Haberlin and Lee Parker. Elizabeth was a member of society’s elite in late 19th-century Pennsylvania. Lee and her mother have been abandoned by her father in present-day Los Angeles. Hogan (Two Sisters) alternates between Elizabeth’s and Lee’s stories. Each woman is 18 years old and coming into her own. Elizabeth struggles with the etiquette of her class, while Lee, who has just learned that she was adopted, searches for information about a relative seen in a photo amidst her birth records. This novel could be an excellent piece of historical fiction if it solely focused on Elizabeth and the Johnstown Flood. The chapters set in the present fall flat and distract from the more compelling sections about the past.
Verdict Recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction with the caveat that they may want to skim the contemporary chapters.—Amy Stenftenagel, Washington Cty. Lib., Woodbury, MN

Kane, Andrea. The Murder That Never Was: A Forensic Instincts Novel. Bonnie Meadow. (Forensic Instincts, Bk. 5). May 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781682320006. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781682320013. F
Serendipity introduces former troubled foster kid Lisa Barnes to her doppelgänger Julie Forman, a successful fitness professional. In a rapid series of unfortunate and implausible events, Julie takes Lisa under her wing, moves her into her home, and gets her a job. Julie is suddenly killed on the street outside of her home, and Lisa takes the opportunity to claim Julie’s identity. From there, Lisa, the new Julie, moves across the country, opens a business, and begins enjoying her new life. However, the killers know that Lisa is living a lie and has obtained dangerous information. Enter Forensic Instincts, a collective of young, potentially unethical tech professionals who try to protect Lisa as the body count rises. The fifth outing in Kane’s series (The Silence That Speaks) features an overly complicated plot, with too many characters and details to absorb. Also, the suspension of disbelief required in the first 50 pages of the book is hard to overcome.
A better version of the assumed-identity genre is Carter Wilson’s The Comfort of Black, but this thriller progresses fairly quickly and could be enjoyed as a summer beach read.—Nicole A. Cooke, GSLIS, Univ. of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Lewis, Susan. The Girl Who Came Back. Ballantine. Jun. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780345549570. pap. $16; ebk. ISBN 9780345549587. F
Jules and Kian seem to be living a charmed life. They realize their dream of owning a historic pub in the moorlands of England and eventually become the proud parents of a daughter, Daisy. As a teen, Daisy falls for a handsome American, Joe, who is just as infatuated with her. Aided by technology, their relationship thrives despite the distance. Trouble arrives for the family in the form of Amelia, a disturbed young woman who is the daughter of a wealthy local businessman. Daisy can’t help but have a soft spot for the lonely Amelia, who lost her mother as a young girl. But when their relationship veers into “single white female” territory—that is, psychopathic stalking—Daisy tries to distance herself from Amelia, who in turn feels that she’s been cast aside. Unfortunately, tragedy is not far off, and Kian and Jules struggle to preserve their relationship in the face of devastation.
Verdict Lewis’s latest (Behind Closed Doors) is recommended as beach reading, because it may be too eerie for some to enjoy after nightfall. For fans of women’s fiction with a dark and suspenseful bent such as the works of Jodi Picoult and Diane Chamberlain.—Karen Core, Detroit P.L.

Seay, Martin. The Mirror Thief. Melville House. May 2016. 592p. ISBN 9781612195148. $23.95; ebk. ISBN 9781612195155. F
[DEBUT] Following three different stories during three different time periods, this debut novel is a complex read. Curtis, a former military policeman, searches for missing family friend Stanley in Las Vegas’s Venetian hotel casino. Curtis believes Stanley stole money from a backer during a massive casino heist, but that’s not the truth, at least not the whole truth. We also visit young Stanley in 1950s Venice Beach, CA, when he was obsessed with a bizarre poetic book called The Mirror Thief. Stanley tracks down the book’s author, only to find that he is not what he seems. Finally, the reader journeys to 16th-century Venice, Italy, with a mysterious man named Crivano (the subject of Stanley’s book) who struggles to hide his own secrets while striving to uncover the secrets of others. His is a world of glass and mirrors, of alchemy and war. Seay has written a twisty, winding tale that is not neatly wrapped up. Whether the three stories intersect, and how much they do, is left to the reader to decide.
Verdict For David Mitchell devotees and patient readers who enjoy lush descriptions and books with multiple narratives, this may offer an intriguing read.—Katie Lawrence, Grand Rapids, MI

Todd, Janet. A Man of Genius. Bitter Lemon. Apr. 2016. 352p. ISBN 9781908524591. $24.95; ebk. ISBN 9781908524607. F
manofgenius052716[DEBUT] When Ann St. Clair, a writer of gothic novels, first meets Robert James at a literary gathering, she, like all his Grub Street friends, is awed by his brilliance. Her admiration deepens into something much more powerful and intimate, but as the couple flee to post-Napoleonic Europe in search of freedom of expression and inspiration, Robert’s brilliance deteriorates into mania and paranoia. Like her heroines, Ann finds herself trapped in a hopelessly dark and complex web of dependence and fear that though it is of her own making is no less deadly. Making her fiction debut, noted British literary scholar Todd has crafted a psychologically haunting and disturbing tale as full of mystery, exotic foreign places, and questions of parentage as any penned by her protagonist, whose journey back to understanding and shaky self-reliance (after a fortuitous rescue by a mysterious stranger) is almost antigothic in its conclusion.
Verdict Devotees of Ann Radcliffe (The Mysteries of Udolpho) and other authors of the gothic literary tradition will enjoy this atmospheric novel.—Cynthia Johnson, formerly with Cary Memorial Lib., Lexington, MA