RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksIn this new critical biography, Katherine Rundell brings us a fresh take on the poems, prose, and protean identities of a 17th-century master of the English language ... Both humble and flashy ... Rundell is a playful, incandescent stylist who brings scintillating insight to her subject ... The author sets out to overturn the narrow angle on Donne that many of us have picked up like a subtle classroom virus ... Donne’s creative pilgrimage was less a stark shift from one mode to another than a blossoming of creative genius long present ... Rundell reminds us that money matters for Donne were usually touch-and-go ... For a work of scholarship, Super-Infinite is a witty joyride of a read, wearing its erudition lightly and a bit irreverently ... Super-Infinite is both academically specialized and shot through with imagination, and so it’s maybe not for everyone.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... this diverting mystery — and Edison’s putative involvement in any crime committed — is only the headline here. A fascinating sideshow for sure, and arguably a marketing tease. But make no mistake: The Man Who Invented Motion Pictures delivers much, much more ... From a broader perspective, Fischer’s narrative is a compelling saga of both familial and scientific struggle. Throughout, he shines a brilliant light on the succession of major players searching for the keys to motion-picture technology, mechanical as well as chemical, both stateside and abroad ... The author offers fascinating coverage of, among other aspects, Edward Muybridge’s work with successive still images of human and equine locomotion, not to mention the gimmicky \'magic lantern\' devices that preceded Edison’s and Le Prince’s nearly simultaneous breakthroughs ... He also dives deeply into the internal workings at Edison’s New Jersey labs, with a wide-ranging dissection of the company’s business model and much reportage on its internal management practices, rivalry, and endemic dissension. Most fascinating of all, at least for this reader, is Fischer’s discussion of the Le Prince family dynamic.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksHoward gets it marvelously right ... the author nails his pairing of the two with solid scholarship and graceful, vivid writing ... Just as importantly, he gives us a volume richly illustrated with more than 50 half-tone images. Overall, the presentation is superb.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a gift to movie lovers. It’s a gorgeously formatted and produced volume, both precise and exhaustive in tracing the life and creative pursuits of the brilliant comic artist and sometime film director who reached his apogee in the 1920s. It’s perfect for a leisurely read or a stint of index-dipping into the performer’s long life and career ... There are more than a few thrilling comic moments in the book that will stand out vividly for fans of Keaton’s movies ... In addition to a closely observed recounting of the performer’s life, the author supplies extended narratives centering on the making of Keaton’s silent classics and a comprehensive chronology and production credits for all his films. To achieve this, he draws on the wealth of published material available: the general, trade, and fan press, plus the many autobiographies and memoirs of key supporting figures. The factual detail may be beyond the expectations of the casual reader, but it’s indispensable to the specialist ... What’s lacking, perhaps, is thoughtful critical consideration and analysis of Keaton’s artistry, but James Curtis, leaving that to other commentators, gives us far more than enough.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksGroff brilliantly recreates 12th-century England ... a propulsive, enchanting, and emotionally charged read ... Groff upends the underlying sexual tension in this convention, underscoring and exacerbating the unspoken irony ... In matters of sexuality, Groff brilliantly handles flashes of physical intimacy among her sisters — including Marie’s own occasional moments — with a moving and empathetic touch ... celebrates a maternal journey touchingly parallel to the uplifting spiritual temper of its time: a fresh attention to the feminine via the religious cult of Mary and the conventions of courtly romance ... Of course, uplifting matters have no place amid the clash of arms in the real, male-dominated world. In that light, the ultimate irony in Groff’s utopian sojourn shines through like a signal flare in the distance, both then and now.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... marvelously engaging ... Kavanagh vividly presents the innumerable players in this saga. And she never neglects the thorny human dimension of her story: the acts of impulse, folly, and desperation, of betrayal and heroism. In a nutshell, she has built a narrative that’s faithful to the flow of events, both overt and behind-the-scenes, while never losing sight of the frailties and passionate commitments behind them ... There’s much in The Irish Assassins to please the serious historian and lay reader alike. One quibble: This reviewer was sometimes overwhelmed by the flood of characters the author necessarily introduces. An annotated roster of the principals up front might have helped. Otherwise, this is a marvelous read.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksLaura Lippman’s new novel is an irresistibly satisfying read, her best yet in an increasingly ambitious oeuvre spanning 24 years. Shot through with sly ironies, Dream Girl returns a double dividend: It’s a precisely paced whodunit dropped with a splat onto today’s hype-driven literary culture ... Laura Lippman has labored hard to expand her creative reach beyond the bare scaffolding of story-driven whodunits. Dream Girl\'s subtle, allusive brilliance would appear to promise much, much more to come.
PositiveWashigton IndependentAlma Katsu, an accomplished spinner of creepy supernatural thrillers, sets aside the spectral torments of her earlier novels to give us a vivid spy story with a twist. The author has reason to know the realm of spies and tradecraft well: She spent 35 years as a senior intelligence analyst at the CIA and NSA, among other organizations ... Katsu succeeds brilliantly here in capturing the ambience of espionage in action. Red Widow is a driving, step-by-step procedural bristling with suspenseful authenticity ... Beyond these revealing jaunts into intra-agency culture, Red Widow abounds in vivid action scenes and riveting cloak-and-dagger moments. Some are violent, while others smolder with chilling menace, even when recalled in flashback. But they all serve as gripping backdrops to the central spine of the investigation undertaken by Katsu’s protagonist, who — in a refreshing departure from the standard spy-fiction model — is a woman ... This is a book crafted for marketplace success, awaiting a following it grandly deserves. It offers a thrilling spy hunt, an atmospheric recreation of CIA operations and culture, and a gentle shift into an upbeat tale anybody can get behind. And there are enough skillfully placed loose ends to promise a dandy sequel.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksAs [Bradford] tracks her life and relationships, he pauses, often with surprising brevity, to link elements of plot or characterization in a Highsmith novel to contemporaneous events in her life. Perhaps because of their brevity, these conclusions can come across as tenuously supported or even hasty and superficial ... Most surprising of all, Bradford seems singularly unappreciative of the consistent quality of Highsmith’s crime fiction, as if his whole enterprise as biographer were a painful duty ... Bradford’s dismissive view of her work is not likely to sit well with Highsmith’s legion of 21st-century fans ... we’re left with the rebellious life and outspoken personality of Highsmith, which Bradford, citing her previous biographers, traces accurately and vividly. The curious neophyte might well be satisfied with Bradford’s thoroughly indexed book for a quick introduction to Highsmith’s life, a saga that’s particularly well summarized in his excellent first chapter ... Bradford is a reliable reporter on this disillusioning reality, yet he’s oddly disinclined to an appreciation of his subject’s fiction.
Emily Gray Tedrowe
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksThe contrasting worlds Becky Farwell straddles diverge starkly: the homespun, agricultural flatlands of southern Illinois versus the slick, ostentatiously high-culture precincts of the big city. Author Emily Gray Tedrowe crosscuts deftly between these locales, crafting alternating chapters that chart Becky’s downstate ascendency alongside her equally remarkable rise ... Although Tedrowe, a storyteller of impressive talent, anchors her tale in modernity and pop-culture mythologizing, her premise is a familiar one of deep ancestry. Think Jekyll and Hyde ... The novel does have its flaws. Its persistent scenic counterpoint often teeters at the edge of cloying wealth pornography at one end and bald social condescension on the other ... As just desserts descend, a wash of dawning soap-opera sentimentality clouds the narrative. This lurch in tone threatens to turn it all into a didactic fable, a throwback that this mostly marvelous, insightfully framed novel doesn’t deserve.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis strain of self-aware irony runs like a vein of gold through Snow, where the author’s loyalty to the standard manor-house form often slips off the sprocket, yielding vivid moments of stark realism, wry humor, politico-literary satire, pathos, and, occasionally, arch social comedy. Think Agatha Christie punched up by Charles Dickens. Or James Joyce ... Banville, for the first time writing a mystery sans pseudonym Benjamin Black, gives us a disruptive take on the genre that’s subversive, seductive, engaging, and brilliantly written from beginning to end. If you swagger in without shaking off the typical expectations of how things should go in a story like this, you can lose the thread and miss the tragic resonance of the lonely protagonist at the heart of the investigation ... Banville occasionally flubs the purist mechanics of the country-house genre, notably with a long insert in the victim’s voice that banishes all readerly uncertainty about the killer’s motives. This variation from the well-made mystery model may cloy some readers ... Still, the writing is as skillful and elegant as you might expect from a Booker laureate. Banville moves his narrative forward with grace, although on every page or so, an apt and evocative turn of phrase emerges to break the spell, grabbing the reader by the throat.
James Lee Burke
MixedWashington Independent Review of Books... typical Robicheaux villains, each of them annoyingly privileged (from Dave’s point of view) and blithely violent toward ordinary folks. But A Private Cathedral takes the Burke sensibility a step beyond. It’s a bizarre novel: a hyper-violent, phantasmagorical fever dream clothed in the livery of a whodunit ... a significant deviation from the author’s customary plot construction. All Burke’s previous antagonists have been vicious villains indeed, but of the flesh-and-blood variety. Some fans of the Robicheaux series may be discomfited by the 83-year-old Burke’s drift into horror-tinged speculative fiction. But even so, his skill at creating an authentic sense of place remains reassuringly intact ... this latter-day knight errant is a steadfast and persistent missionary for his higher power. Still, it tends to get old, and in this book, for the first time in this reviewer’s experience with the series, it stands out as overkill. But if you stay around for the ending, it’s as slam-bang, heart-pounding, bloody, and incendiary as a Michael Bay flick.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... exhaustively thorough ... Dickson, an indefatigable researcher, again demonstrates his talent for marshaling ground-level details and contemporary newspaper accounts into a coherent and engaging story ... a remarkable work of historical scholarship, an eminently readable narrative crafted from a swarm of disparate and far-flung sources. The author plunges boldly into a saga that few other experts have explored in detail ... a brilliant history. In the sad and dispiriting times we’re living through today, it shines a light on a saga that’s largely uplifting yet still shot through with elements counter to our ideals. It’s a long story we all need to see as our own, as characteristic of our nation today as ever.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of BooksThis chilling tale of tragic death and spectral visitations bumps along behind the restless heartbeat of its plucky young heroine. Steeped in atmospherics and relentless foreboding, The Deep treads a bleak path between two maritime disasters from the second decade of the last century ... If this premise appeals, I say go for it. Author Alma Katsu brings all the right stuff, with enough long-harbored memories, emotional wounds, violent outbursts, breathless reunions, furtive crimes, laudanum-spiked forebodings, \'gypsy\' curses, and spooky seances to keep the hearts of supernatural-fiction fans thumping to all hours ... It also needs to be said, emphatically: The author is no slouch when it comes to vivid descriptions that transcend the usual formulas of the genre she’s chosen ... The climactic twist at the end of the novel, de rigueur in the horror genre, falls just a little too heavily for this reader. Still, if said flavor of this capably wrought tale befits your midnights dreary, you should find The Deep a compelling read.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a beautiful, moving story, complex, layered, evocative, and often funny, as its near-Dickensian array of characters deals with the shooting’s aftermath. They range through all the predictable responses to the unexpected act: relief, joy, fear of reprisal, plus the impulse to protect the projects’ harmless champion from drug criminals and police alike ... The author tells this tale with an acute ear for the authentic cadences of urban colloquial speech; he never lapses into the language of stereotype. And underlying all the talk in this talk-rich novel are the familiar echoes of Southern evangelism, touchstones of language and culture for the projects’ black residents.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a compelling and remarkable tale, vibrant and authentic, rendered more resonant by author Joshua Hammer’s impressive research ... the delight in reading The Falcon Thief arises not so much from its core narrative of pursuit and unmasking as from the background details the author assembles and energetically presents ... Hammer showcases the heroics of dedicated falcon breeders keen to advance the mechanics of artificial insemination ... fascinating.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksOften shocking and occasionally confounding, this darkly resonant novel is a dystopian rendering of World War II Germany on the cusp of its slow slide into defeat ... [a] convention-upturning tour de force ... Don’t pick up Cesare expecting a wartime thriller or an uplifting love intrigue, despite what its subtitle might promise. Charyn sets these and several other conventional formulas in play here, though hollowed-out and zombie-like, to push his story along. They’re intentionally alienating, in the Brechtian sense, and bleakly unsatisfying ... An underlying anger, a bitterness, drives this novel. And it’s entirely earned, as history has told us.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis impressive debut from Kate Weinberg is a collegiate coming-of-age story entangled in a snarl of secretive goings on — some nearly a century old, others a few years past, and a few chillingly present. All of them intertwine to great effect in a cleverly constructed tale of passionate duplicity, mysterious absences, and sudden death ... The horizon is stormy and threatening indeed — though never quite collapses into creaky conventionality — as this mystery finds its stride, revealing a machinery of betrayals, vanishings, abrupt disillusionments, raw unmaskings, and, above all, romantic triangles. Or, more correctly, curiously intersecting triangles hinting strongly at furtive murder unpunished ... Kudos to Kate Weinberg...
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... suspenseful, emotionally gripping, and fact-based ... But what takes place at the macro level is what makes this book a distinctive, uplifting read ... In an impressive display of narrative reach and research, author Catherine Bailey skillfully elucidates the grand historical circumstances unfolding beneath the close-up family saga she recounts. Her broad-gauge exposition throws the interpersonal drama at the book’s core into moving, sometimes shocking focus ... For this reviewer, the brief love-affair sequence is a speed bump ... But what is a mark of distinction is the author’s ability to zoom back from her core domestic drama to depict the steal-your-breath settings, including death camps and alpine hostelries. Not to mention the political and military events marking the waning years of the war, notably in northern Italy, Eastern Europe, and Germany itself ... She does this repeatedly and vividly, testimony to her extraordinary skill at framing a small story in the far more vibrant context of history on the march.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksIn marvelous widescreen style, cross-cutting from Berlin to Washington to London, author Vogel gives us a virtually month-by-month account of the tunnel’s excavation and operation. His scrupulously detailed account never fails to keep the reader engaged, most notably in the inter-governmental runup to the mission and, later, in the oil-and-water interplay among the officials responsible for its construction and operation ... Vogel describes goings-on across the border in East Berlin in similarly gripping detail, thanks to subsequent memoirs from many of the principals on the other side ... a hefty read indeed. The book’s sheer length and detail may put off some readers, but for those intrigued by the clandestine probes and countermeasures at the flashpoints of Cold War contention, it will captivate and inform ... both a thrilling account and, sadly at times, an unconsciously comic one. Decoded in the earnest spirit of its warring principals, it’s an object lesson in tunnel vision writ large.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksAh Hok’s story winds through an unnerving sequence of disastrous and unwished-for reversals of fortune, including a stint in prison. His deadpan recital is honest and recounted without rancor. At the same time, it’s vividly evocative, and we invest wholeheartedly not just in the momentum of the tale, but in the ill-fated teller, as well. That’s to the credit of author Tash Aw, a Malaysian expat writing in English. In We, the Survivors, his fourth novel, he indicts the inbred order of his birthplace, giving us a compelling social-problem novel in the naturalistic tradition. But as his book takes aim at the rampant dislocations that class exploitation has wrought on Malaysian society, he also gives us a lead character whom we like and want to believe in, even as we perceive his self-delusion ... [a] richly rewarding novel.
James P. Delgado
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Books... a sweeping survey of evolving battle craft, along with succinct considerations of the practical war-making doctrines that spawned them ... This is a comprehensive and detailed chronicle, a first-rate, era-by-era account ranging expertly from the age of primitive war canoes to today’s global maritime faceoff, where opposing nuclear navies prowl our planet’s oceans both above the surface and deep below it ... For enthusiasts and browsers alike, this is an impressive book. Delgado draws on voluminous printed sources to guide us on a worldwide tour of the marine localities where significant conflicts played out, as well as the present-day repositories of artifacts recovered from the shipwrecks that resulted ... sumptuously illustrated with scores of photos, plus a wealth of full-color plates. The book offers an exhaustive bibliography as well, an encyclopedic roster for any reader who wants to explore the subject further. Delgado’s bibliography is dazzling testimony in its own right to the author’s expansive scope and expertise ... But this author is much more than a dogged researcher haunting reading rooms and dusty museum collections. He’s also a field archeologist, a global explorer, and an expert scuba diver who doesn’t hesitate to get wet in pursuit of his research ... Delgado frequently varies the pace of his narrative by weaving in accounts of his own sub-surface investigations (via scuba or in submersibles) of many of the wrecks he discusses. His explorations with Robert Ballard, renowned discoverer of the Titanic wreck, for example, add a real-world authenticity to the book’s rich commentary.
De'Shawn Charles Winslow
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksIn West Mills is lovingly atmospheric, carrying us off to a tiny fleck on the map, and one that’s exotically unfamiliar to many readers ... In West Mills shines an admiring spotlight on these distinctively American places, speaking with unadorned eloquence to the unvoiced feelings, impulses, and loyalties that bind the town’s residents. For readers both in and beyond the inherited blood-grip of these bonds, the author brings this world alive with blade-sharp fidelity. The sense of the real—and the living undercurrents of rooted kinship—inhabits every page ... Throughout this exceptional novel, Winslow captures the cadences and casual elisions of West Mills’ language. He depicts the town’s essentials with a lean authenticity and vibrant empathy in rhythms subtly calibrated for both eye and ear ... This is an earthbound novel brimming with grit and sincerity, a spare, elegiac portrait of an American subculture that—in its rural expression, at least—will likely soon fade away.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksPurnell has turned out a thoroughly gripping and inspiring account bristling with real-life suspense of an American’s unlikely role in the struggle against Hitler’s occupying forces ... Purnell deserves much credit for her meticulous research ... The author never sacrifices precise detail in the interest of furtive liaisons, midnight explosions, narrow escapes, and shocking betrayals, though there are plenty of those ... sets the record straight: It’s a terrific book about an astonishingly brave and accomplished American war hero.
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksCarrie Gibson’s ambitious El Norte...provides a revealing historical perspective on our current political climate ... Gibson tells it with authoritative gusto and in exhaustively researched detail. For the most part, this is a rapid-fire documentary account ... As the book progresses into the last two centuries, though, it seems to shift from a bird’s-eye perspective to a slower, more ground-level view of the U.S. societal forces that are often arrayed in opposition to individuals and matters Latino. If you’re a reader who responds to facts, dates, and painstaking reportage, this is the volume to consult. It’s a hefty resource, and reading it cover to cover might seem an equally hefty investment of time. But there’s good news here for the intrigued but time-pressed: Gibson’s book rewards browsing, offering a marvelous timeline, a great selection of illustrations, a solid bibliography, and a deep index. El Norte overflows with rich detail, revealing often startling truths that this reviewer, for one, never encountered in the textbooks of his adolescence.
PositiveWashington Independent Review of Books\"... [the book contains a] predictable narrative formula to which this clearly talented writer has yoked herself. After all, she’s got a chart-topper to write, not a literary lodestar. Even so, author Harriet Tyce deserves credit for telling Alison’s story with admirable attention to atmosphere, characterization, and suspense. She vividly depicts the English court system, which may be new in its intricacies for American readers — as well she should, having herself spent nearly a decade as a criminal barrister. Tyce also orchestrates Alison’s Sisyphean exertions to recover with a skillful command of narrative suspense, never teasing us with the temptation to give up on her as misfortune keeps snapping at her heels ... despite the bitter circumstances arrayed against her heroine, Tyce pulls off a gob-smacker of a reversal in Blood Orange’s final moments. It elevates this book from seamy law-office melodrama to respectable thriller.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Tim Johnston’s gripping second novel is much more than a skillfully constructed, beautifully written whodunit. It’s a subtle and lyrical acclamation of the heart and spirit of small-town America. The Current is not your conventional, frenetically paced page-turner, although it smolders with a brooding, slow-burn tension that nudges the reader forward, catching you up in the lives of the troubled solitaries at the book’s core.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of BooksNo Beast So Fierce is the compelling tale of the cat’s fateful collision with a lone human challenger, certainly a trope with archetypal roots. But unlike many of its fictional prototypes, it attempts to deal evenhandedly with the inevitable showdown, in effect telling both sides of the story. That’s why this book succeeds. Author Dane Huckelbridge guides the reader through a wide-ranging excursion into history and jungle ecology. He also supplies rich detail on the social conditions informing the plight of tigers both then and now, and he colors in some chilling background concerning the formidable power of panthera tigris ... What turns this solitary creature into a stalker of human prey? Huckelbridge offers a rich and compelling explanation here, weaving in natural and political history, jungle ecology, and a discussion of sound land management.
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"In the three essays collected in Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know, Irish novelist Colm Tóibín takes a refreshingly oblique angle on a trio of towering literary stylists of the last era, all sons of Irish-born fathers. In a graceful oral style befitting the book’s origin as a series of university lectures, Tóibín explores the parental imprint — sometimes biographical, often creative — on the lives and work of Oscar Wilde, W.B. Yeats, and James Joyce ... Tóibín doesn’t try to forge a connection between his biographical abstract and the life and work of the Wildes’ son. But, come on! Who cares? It’s a fascinating backstory, immensely revealing about the culture of late-19th-century Dublin ... Thanks to Tóibín’s wry and learned commentary, we get to see in Mad, Bad, Dangerous to Know a great deal of these arms-length Irish fathers and the worlds they inhabited.\
Yan Lianke, Trans. by Carlos Rojas
MixedWashington Independent Review of Books\"Call Yan Lianke a magical realist with an unsparingly violent bent. Call him a Swiftian satirist taking aim at the regimentation of modern Chinese life. Either way, this dystopian fable has a heart as dark as the fateful night it describes ... This is no gentle authorial chiding of social foibles with tolerant affection. It’s a derisive indictment, most likely of the enforced conformity and seething undercurrents of life under the Xi Jinping regime ... The Day the Sun Died powers its way along a shockingly brutal trajectory ... What stands out, at least for this reader, is Niannian’s incessant penchant for relating people and events figuratively, often in similes, and frequently at a rate of three or more to the page. In English, some of these tropes come across as sour notes, forced and overdone.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Johnson’s book, set in the murky riverlands of central England, makes heady demands on the reader: stark shifts in voice and sometimes unsettling dislocations of time and place. Evocative and haunting, her writing is vividly imagistic in ways its classical model could only attempt along its choral borders ... Everything Under is capital-B Brilliant, capital-V Virtuoso. It’s supremely worthy of its Man Booker honors and heralds the emergence of a significantly talented British writer ... For this reviewer, Everything Under has triggered a kind of modernist catharsis more persistent than that of any novel I’ve read this year. It brings a newly wrenching relevance that recovers the dormant power of its original and, in many ways, amplifies and transcends it 25 centuries later.\
RaveWashington Independent Review of Books\"Now, with a nod to her, scholar Diarmaid MacCulloch has crafted a monumental portrait that sticks steadfastly to the actual circumstances of Cromwell’s life. His biography is a massive and comprehensive picture of the man who the great Tudor historian (and MacCulloch mentor) G.R. Elton once called \'unbiographable\' ... MacCulloch has done an exhaustive job here, mining contemporary and near-contemporary printed sources and manuscripts, letters, and reports from diplomatic luminaries to their superiors on the continent, including the pope. He also relies on hundreds of primary and secondary sources touching on his subject’s life, accomplishments, and shortcomings ... From this decidedly rich corpus, Diarmaid MacCulloch has produced a stunning chronicle. Thomas Cromwell: A Revolutionary Life is crafted with elegant style; it’s as witty and observant as the work of any historian writing today. And it will prove an invaluable resource for scholars and serious devotees of 16th-century English history for decades to come.\
Max Allan Collins and A. Brad Schwartz
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksScarface and the Untouchable is bulky because it is thorough and detailed—almost devotionally so. It’s sure to become a valuable resource for historians of Prohibition-era America, amateur and professional alike. At the same time, it’s an undertaking by enthusiasts for enthusiasts and not an easy read, owing largely to its sheer density of reportage—often week-by-week, sometimes day-to-day—as the interlocking halves of its saga take shape. Make no mistake, Collins and Schwartz certainly produce vivid stretches of narrative, notably as they chronicle the lawless milieu of Prohibition-era Chicago and the blasé corruptibility of civic authority as the nation slides into the Depression. They reveal, in compelling detail, how Ness championed the merits of scientific criminology ... And this reader was captivated by the many scenes where the Ness team, axes in hand, smashes thousands upon thousands of kegs of illegal brew, but never come close to directly implicating the smiling, ebullient Capone in its production and sale.
MixedThe Washington Independent Review of BooksPatrick DeWitt’s compact French Exit is a sly little packet of witty observation and dark humor. It’s a pleasurable read, mainly because it’s quickly digestible, fitfully funny, and oh so artfully composed ... This detachment, as self-consciously wry as a Mayfair dinner anecdote, dominates the narrative. How the novel appeals to the individual reader may hinge on his or her appreciation or tolerance for this unremitting tone ... Book clubs and Portland/Brooklyn hipsters alike may warm to this absurdist and faintly condescending novel for its many charms. Ultimately, though, it comes across as a spinning top of paper-thin absurdity and warmed-over comic conventions; of reversals of expectation slipped through with wry nonchalance; of satire bled dry of bite; and of death drained of impact.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksOver the years, we’ve come to know Richard as unremittingly evil ... Chris Skidmore examines all these hostile indictments in the bright light of available data. He does so with sharp writing and a marvelously exhaustive command of contemporary documentary sources ... Skidmore approaches Richard’s biography with an eye for what’s known and also what’s unknowable. The thoroughness of his research tends to slow the pace a bit, especially during the first half of the book. On the other hand, there are many compelling stretches where the author weaves the swarm of facts he presents into rich portrayals of the politics of the age ... In the author’s hands, there’s no lack of thrilling details in Richard’s saga ... His biography bids fair to become the definitive account for the 21st century, and one that should nudge Richard’s reputation away from rumor, propaganda, and shared misconception back into the realm of concrete historical data.
David Cay Johnston
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksWhen the American people, their collective wisdom reclaimed, finally tally the accounts on this president, the rather scary facts that Johnston marshals are likely to loom large in the verdict ... Without tabloid fireworks, Johnston succinctly distills the character and track record of the man who has described himself as 'the world’s greatest person' ... Johnston’s most important contributions to the growing Trump corpus emerge from his thoroughly researched commentary on the current administration’s chilling adventures in Federal policy-making and day-to-day practice ... This book provides a clear-eyed rundown of the president’s attempts to undercut the role of government in our lives, both through senior Cabinet appointments and through his appointees’ blatant inaction in staffing up the departments they now administer.
Bob D. Ehrman
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksEhrman’s book remains solidly grounded in first-rate scholarship. And although a few loony emperors do lurk about and the (very) occasional persecution arises, the reader in search of the dramatic, the sentimental, or the miraculous is likely to find scant fulfillment here ... Ehrman calmly delineates the sound statistical case that Christianity enjoyed a 'steady and plausible rate of growth' to embrace half the empire’s population ... We don’t need the heavens to open, or the home team to triumph in a brilliantly filmed, thrills-and-spills chariot race, to gasp at the stunning ascent of this humbly spawned religion.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis is where you might start if you want to get a handle on Mamet’s writing — with the language he crafts: snappy, allusive and implicate, and often slippery with sententious affectation from characters who can’t seem to stop talking. In those moments where Mamet’s language soars, Chicago can be spellbinding. His virtuosity in constructing dialogue, plot-advancing or otherwise, is often most evident in his long sequences of one-on-one exchanges ... Even so, the plot may not advance as compellingly as some might hope. Fans of traditional detective fiction are certainly accustomed to scenes where the hero(ine) and another character verbally volley their way to all-clarifying discovery. But for readers attuned to another flavor of thriller — with hard-driving, less-reflective plots and spare conversation — well, maybe there’s not so much delight in store for you with this book. So, if you tend to zone out during scenes of clever repartee and mutual reflection, you might want to take a pass on Chicago ... Slow-moving but richly revealing, Chicago won’t please everyone who picks it up, but many readers won’t want to put it down.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis narrative nugget could break in any number of directions. Benjamin treats it with profound, heart-tugging respect, and gives us a novel crafted with a resonant sensitivity to the lifelong complexities of family relationships ... In the siblings’ tales, author Benjamin shines a subtle light on the bonds of kinship and familial love, counter-balanced by the freedom, or willingness, to choose one’s own path. The Immortalists is a rich and rewarding novel, sure to rank among the very best of 2018’s crop, and one to be re-read and savored for years to come.
A. J. Finn
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis page-turner from debut author A.J. Finn is consciously tailored to exploit certain narrative formulas of recent pedigree to boost its ascent up the bestseller lists, drawing on the currency left on deposit by the Gone Girl/The Girl on the Train school of popular fiction ...this novel is brilliantly crafted and liberally laced with character insights that ring wrenchingly true. It also glides along with quicksilver pacing through plot reversals, explosive revelations, and thrills-a-plenty surprises ... The Woman in the Window catches fire under its pseudonymous author’s deft pacing and spellbinding insight into his heroine’s psychological state — all this despite the novel’s too-familiar, made-for-bestseller components ... While this thriller takes a cynical glance backward at recent bestsellers, it’s still wondrously written. And more to the point, it resonates chillingly with the spring-loaded tension and ominous narrative drive that it shares with its cinematic forebears, specifically Hitchcock and the somewhat lesser-known auteurs of film noir.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis sumptuously produced book comes to us from one of America’s foremost and most readable professional biographers … Isaacson mines the artifacts of Leonardo Da Vinci’s life to support a resonant central theme: That he was a hands-on, intuitive genius; in the author’s view, perhaps the greatest of all time … The anatomical material in the notebooks showcases Leonardo’s brilliant draftsmanship, which also found outlet in his extant paintings, which number fewer than 20. Isaacson covers the bases in his discussions of Leonardo’s painterly style.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksThis unremittingly engrossing book delivers a real-life spy narrative that — not unlike many of its fictional counterparts — breaks from the gate with a stunningly urgent intelligence bombshell ... Bhattacharjee’s narrative is a fast-moving one. Somewhat surprisingly, he writes in a spare, unadorned style that doesn’t detract from the pace of the story. Even so, the author doesn’t neglect the color and background of his tale, and his depiction of Regan’s teenage years, his marriage, and his ham-fisted attempt to soak the Libyan government for $13 million add depth to the tale. What’s more, the author’s background as a science writer means his descriptions of complex encryption practices go down easily.
Edward Jay Epstein
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of BooksIn How America Lost Its Secrets: Edward Snowden, the Man and the Theft, Epstein plunges in boldly against the tide of kudos for young Snowden, suggesting that the boyish techie we read about or see onscreen is a singularly destructive player in the game of international espionage ... Snowden, declares Epstein, likely made off with a massive haul of potentially damaging national secrets ranging far beyond the files that exposed illegal NSA surveillance ... Epstein is no rookie, but rather an established author with a contrarian streak ... Epstein builds an admittedly speculative case for treason, and he supplements his narrative with fascinating digressions about intelligence practices in general and the sorry cavalcade of recent moles who have burrowed into secrets that should be better safeguarded.
PositiveThe Washington Independent Review of Books...if you appreciate thoughtful and scholarly reads, Leo Braudy’s Haunted will likely thrill and not disappoint. Braudy pays off the fetching promise of the book’s subtitle with erudite insights spanning the last three centuries in the life of a persistent literary and cultural phenomenon ... Braudy’s ease and insight in discussing the cinematic exemplars he brings forward in Haunted are highlights of the latter sections of the book ... Braudy scatters impressive insights with authorial abandon across scores of focal points, literary and cultural, during his chosen period ... For the casual reader, though, it may make sense to approach Haunted as an index-driven read rather than a cover-to-cover undertaking. Although wondrously well written, the book is dense with detail, which could prove frustrating for some, however strong their interest in the topic.
RaveThe Washington Independent Review of Booksthe author directs an insightful and sympathetic eye toward culture and custom among this tribe, with richly observed and at times laugh-out-loud glimpses of a generation that some of us, more demographically remote, find difficult to get a handle on. He also guides us with wit and charm among the outliers — parents, siblings, employers, cops — who, in a way, unwittingly cushion his millennials along their rutty byways and detours. If we appreciate how very well he writes, Mike Roberts rates as more than just a clever chronicler of 20-something mores. He’s an author from whom we should expect important work in years to come.