PositiveThe Washington Post... smart ... Steinmetz devotes several gripping chapters to what happened when Gould applied his magician’s skills to gold, taking advantage of conflicting views within the Grant administration on the gold standard for U.S. currency. It’s a saga with multiple players and ups and downs galore.
PositiveThe Washington Post... entertaining ... Alford, a professor emeritus at Northern Virginia Community College who has also written a biography of John Wilkes Booth, offers no thesis to unify the sundry interactions, coincidences and ironies of his material. In his telling, spiritualism gained enough traction to appeal to two quite different American families — but so what? Would John Wilkes Booth have refrained from murdering Lincoln if the young Fox sisters had kept their toes quiet on that seminal night in rural New York? It’s hard to see why ... In the Houses of Their Dead is nonetheless worth reading for its wealth of Ripley’s Believe It or Not characters and their foibles.
Michel Bussi, Tr. Sam Taylor
RaveThe Washington PostBussi’s latest is the gripping The Double Mother, which may set a record for number of plot twists between two covers ... Bussi is one of those thriller writers who heightens suspense by shifting from one character’s viewpoint to another with calculated aplomb. Fortunately, he draws his characters so well that we don’t mind being wrenched away from Malone in crisis, say, to Marianne in consternation. The author himself comments archly on all this back-and-forth ... other slabs of disparate material will soon be fitted into place, especially in the novel’s final hundred pages, and what a pleasure it is to be a construction-site rubbernecker. A long book that goes quickly, The Double Mother, zestily translated by Sam Taylor, is likely to stay in your mind for years to come, even if you don’t have a stuffed animal to coach you.
RaveThe Washington Post... an incisive and witty novel that shows what good company the Nobelist and his family might have been ... it canters along not only on the strength of Tóibín’s graceful prose, but also because the reader can hardly wait for the next bon mot from a family member or guest. Christopher Isherwood, Albert Einstein, Bertolt Brecht and other luminaires have cameos, and in their absence one or another Mann is sure to pick up the slack.
MixedThe Washington PostBarbarisi writes with gusto and portrays the eccentrics he encounters with a candor that never quite slips into mockery; he sums up Beep as \'a Renaissance man of the frivolous.\' He can also make a landscape come alive ... Barbarisi, now a senior editor at the Athletic, occasionally gets too caught up in his subject. His chapter on searching for a very different kind of treasure — what lies in old galleons at the bottom of the ocean — runs on too long and probably should have been cut entirely. He is more judicious in covering the conspiracy theories hatched by disappointed seekers during the hunt and afterward, but let’s draw a veil over how the contest ended. You can find out online, of course, but Barbarisi tells the story so well that you should resist any form of peeking ahead and leave the matter in his capable hands.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn clumsy hands, this setup could lead to a stacked-deck battle between mean-spirited crusaders and beleaguered gay activists, but Nava, a six-time Lambda Literary Award winner, paints a nuanced portrait of a fascinating character on the pro-initiative side ... A similar proposition appeared on the real-life California ballot in November of 1986 but lost decisively. To crank up the drama of his story, Nava makes the vote much closer. That is certainly his prerogative, but I would have liked to see some analysis of why Californians—both actual and fictional—rejected the impulse to quarantine ... With so much law going on, I hasten to report that Nava explains it all clearly. Nor is he above making fun of the profession ... The law can also congratulate itself for turning out more than its share of novelists, including the talented Michael Nava.
Henning Mankell, Trans. by George Goulding
PositiveThe Washington PostPerhaps the most remarkable thing about Os[k]ar is not that he survived or that, despite his mutilation, he got married or that, despite the state of his reproductive organs, he fathered children. What sets him apart is how little he permitted the accident to change him ... Little by little, the unnamed narrator fills in his and our picture of Oskar, without ever reaching the man’s perhaps unknowable core ... the book shows a gifted storyteller at the start of an illustrious career, not blasting but chipping away at the stubborn rock that is Oskar Johansson.
PositiveThe Washington Post... stylish ... Bollen is a skilled purveyor of suspense. And he knows his overcrowded Venice ... Bollen’s wit sparkles on almost every page ... I wonder, though, if the dishonest and brutal world Nick and Clay inhabit could leave them quite as wholesome and enamored of each other as Bollen would have us believe ... Still, in lieu of going to Venice, which as Bollen reminds us is being \'visited to death,\' you might want to settle for a few cuticle-biting hours with A Beautiful Crime.
Andrea Camilleri, Trans. by Stephen Sartarelli
RaveThe Washington PostHalf the fun of reading a mystery by the late Andrea Camilleri is watching his detective, Inspector Salvo Montalbano of the Sicilian police, as he bluffs, breaks rules or even flat-out lies for justice’s sake ... [Camilleri has a] gift for dialogue reflects that background. He was also lucky enough to find a fine translator, the American poet Stephen Sartarelli, who is especially good at rendering Sicilian dialect and general verbal muddle in English ... for anyone who likes mysteries with good plotting and characterization, vivid local color, and sparkling language, the Montalbano series is azackly right.
RaveThe Washington Post... riveting ... a fine book—exhaustively researched and candid without being prurient—that should be as illuminating to law-enforcement as it is fascinating to the general reader. If only there were some way to keep it from being read by would-be serial killers.
MixedThe Washington Post... [a] strapping biography ... Grinnell’s passions were so numerous and varied that he can be an elusive figure, and it doesn’t help that Taliaferro stuffs his biography with too much detail, including plot summaries of the adventure novels Grinnell wrote for boys ... Taliaferro doesn’t shy away from the issues posed by his subject’s life, including the ethics of hunting, the level of development that should be allowed in a national park, even homosexuality ... In each case, the author levelheadedly presents the known facts and lets the reader make up his or her own mind.
PositiveThe Washington PostResearching and writing this book has given Victoria Riskin — and her readers — two related pleasures: getting to know the man who championed the little guy on film and remembering the woman who screamed life into a Fay Wray doll.
PositiveThe Philadelphia InquirerResearching and writing this book has given Victoria Riskin – and her readers – two related pleasures: getting to know the man who championed the little guy on film and remembering the woman who screamed life into a Fay Wray doll.
W. K. Stratton
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... [an] dmiring and informative account ... Be that as it may, reading W.K. Stratton’s fine book after watching The Wild Bunch can make for a rich aesthetic feast.\
Boris Akunin, Trans. by Andrew Bromfield
PositiveThe Washington PostTo the short but luminous list of fascinating fictional valets and butlers we must add a new entry. He is Afanasii Stepanovich Ziukin, the narrator of Boris Akunin’s zesty mystery novel ... The mystery is a good one, the villain meets the least-likely-suspect challenge flung down so often by Agatha Christie, and Andrew Bromfield translates Akunin with his customary brio ... s for Fandorin, the handsome, athletic, extraordinarily clever detective with a slight stutter, he dominates this, the seventh of his adventures to be published in the States, as he always does — with Sherlockian elan.
PositiveThe Washington PostUnfortunate as the jurors’ mind-reading attempts may have been, Humes’s main objection to the Parks trial has to do with evidence-gathering. Before he is done with it, the small fire that killed Parks’s kids grows into a conflagration threatening the integrity of the American criminal justice system ... Humes makes no mention, however, of what might be the strongest weapon in Cohen’s arsenal: Burned itself, a powerful brief not only for Parks but also for a recognition of the weaknesses in forensic science generally.
Un-Su Kim, Trans. by Sora Kim-Russell
PositiveThe Washington Post\"... [a] gripping portrait of a killer for hire ... The Plotters is no primer for a visit to Korea. What it does offer is a vivid portrait of a mesmerizing central character — the stoic Reseng. It will also keep readers delightfully off-balance. In The Plotters Kim has mixed bookishness, crackpots and commissioned murder into a rich and unsettling blend.\
Therese Anne Fowler
PositiveThe Washington Post\"Does a novel about a historical figure who specialized in arranging advantageous marriages, including her own, strike you as plutocrat porn? Not to worry: Therese Anne Fowler’s A Well-Behaved Woman eschews the \'Dynasty\' approach in favor of a gimlet-eyed look at the vacuity and hypocrisy of life among [high society] ... Fowler’s Alva is tough, cagey and unwilling to settle for the role of high-society ornament — what’s not to like?\
PositiveThe Washington PostIt’s a good mystery, embellished with byplay and banter between Virgil and his allies ... My one complaint is that Sandford never lets us in on how the apparitions are produced ... the impresarios must be doing something technically and artistically right, and it would have been nice to go backstage with them ... Sandford belongs in the heady company of the late, prolific Ruth Rendell.
PositiveThe Washington PostBlessings are hard to come by in The World in a Grain, American journalist Vince Beiser’s impassioned and alarming report on sand. The only good news in the book is that Atkins’s deserts—indeed, deserts in general—are likely to survive because their sand has no utilitarian value ... [river or ocean] Sand-enabled construction has given rise to ever bigger houses, in suburbs ever more distant from the urban job sites to which the house owners drive, burning ever more fossil fuel, enhancing the greenhouse effect and exacerbating global warming—so that in Beiser’s artful telling, the planet is caught up in a vicious, sand-fueled cycle ... Beiser is particularly informative on China, where the aforementioned mass migration is most acute.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn The Immeasurable World, his perceptive and witty account of his desert travels, Atkins gives the reader an entertaining tour of the tent city’s zones and attractions ... He also zeroes in on certain little-known properties of the extravaganza — its whiteness, for example ... This is weighty material, but Atkins is usually prepared to buoy it up with a joke.
James A McLaughlin
PositiveThe Washington Post...[an] exciting first novel ... Like a slow-motion cinematographer, McLaughlin skillfully breaks down the actions of hunter and hunted into their constituent parts ... Bearskin, then, may call for a little patience from the reader. But stick with the novel and you’ll be rewarded with some of the best action writing in recent fiction.
RaveThe Washington PostAfter reading The Rise and Fall of Dinosaurs, I think ... Brusatte’s mastery of his field, formidable explanatory powers and engaging style have combined to produce a masterpiece of science writing for the lay reader. I would add that you’ll find Rise and Fall fascinating even if you don’t give a damn about dinosaurs — but first, show me someone who doesn’t give a damn about dinosaurs.
PositiveThe Washington Post...[an] ingenious new thriller ... Koryta’s plotting is sure-footed, and the secrets he discloses, one by one, at the novel’s end are both surprising and plausible. My main reservation about “How It Happened” is the massive amount of violence inflicted on Rob, from which he bounces back too readily...the savagery and Rob’s amazing recoveries seem out of place in a novel that trades so briskly in finesse ... a book the reader won’t soon forget.
Jo Nesbø, Trans. by Don Bartlett
PositiveThe Washington PostOn the whole...Nesbo manages the balancing act of being true to the original play without slighting his own interests as a writer: bleak settings, loyalty (or the lack thereof) among crooks, clever escapes from tight spots, the affinities between policemen and the criminals they chase ... Nesbo has repaid what may have been a wild hunch on the part of his publisher.
MixedThe Washington PostIn Disappointment River Castner alternates an account of [river explorer] Mackenzie’s voyage with a chronicle of his own repeat in the summer of 2016 ... Castner is an uneven writer whose ultra-compressed sentences can leave the reader scratching his head ... At his best, however, Castner has the Conradian ability to make you see and feel ... Disappointment River abounds in vivid details.
PositiveThe Washington PostIn reading The Last Wild Men of Borneo, then, you might find yourself doing as I did: rushing through the chapters on Palmieri to get back to the adventures of Manser. His is quite a story — exciting, funny and tragic — and Hoffman tells it extraordinarily well.
RaveThe Washington Post...a grim and gripping tale of well-earned paranoia … Moore blends his story’s futuristic elements with more traditional tricks of the genre … The book’s tone is Chandleresque, the conspiracy worrying Carver and Jenner expands to Pynchonean proportions, and the physical ick they encounter might have oozed out of a Cronenberg movie. But on the whole, I’ll wager, The Night Market and its predecessors, The Poison Artist and The Dark Room, are like nothing you’ve ever read.
Christopher J. Yates
RaveThe Washington PostAt the beginning of Christopher J. Yates’s fine second novel, Grist Mill Road, Patrick ‘Patch’ McConnell looks back on the summer of 1982 … Yates...tack[s] back and forth in time, and from one narrator to another, with extraordinary skill … He demonstrates impressive knowledge of and affection for his adopted country while telling an even more compelling tale. Not least among his new book’s strengths is the light it sheds on the phenomenon of an otherwise law-abiding male giving in to volcanic rage.
PositiveThe Washington PostThomson concentrates less on the brothers than on the cinematic factory they built and ran ... Thomson takes palpable delight in celebrating the Warners’ stable of stars ...there are the countless examples of Thomson’s insight as filtered through his encyclopedic knowledge of cinema ... The standard biographical approach may not be Thomson’s main concern, but he doesn’t neglect it entirely ... You risk misunderstanding America if you don’t read him on the movies.
RaveThe Washington PostGrimes may not have been a plasterboard saint — he was once arrested for drunken driving — but those who knew him characterized him as a shy, gentle man who respected women. His conviction and imprisonment left him shattered. Rachlin vividly describes the anguish that would well up in Grimes again and again during his 24 years behind bars … Rachlin alternates chapters on Grimes’s plight with ones on outsiders’ pursuit of a novel idea: There ought to be a way to reopen old cases and exonerate the wrongfully convicted. It’s worth noting that some of the activists pressing this reform had been crime victims whose mistaken identifications sent innocent people to prison … In Rachlin’s skilled hands, Grimes’s story triggers indignation but also confers solace, Grimes being one of the solacing features. He bears no grudges.
PositiveThe Washington PostThere’s a lot going on in South Pole Station, and Shelby does better with some of its themes than with others. Cooper’s attempts to come to terms with her brother’s death are surprisingly unmoving, for example, while Sal’s pursuit of a theory as to how the world came into being makes for gripping reading ... But Shelby is very good on social interactions at the end of the earth, and South Pole Station crackles with energy whenever science takes center stage. She makes Sal’s abstruse theorizing both comprehensible and exciting.
Stieg Larsson, Translated by Reg Keeland
RaveThe Washington PostReaders of Dragon Tattoo will not be surprised to learn that Salander is indeed still withdrawn and irascible — and also highly effective as a computer snoop ... Yet Salander is a rather different person from the brilliant but touchy Goth of Dragon Tattoo ... The Swedish title of Dragon Tattoo is Men Who Hate Women. That motif runs through the new novel like a slushy undercurrent, all the more disturbing in light of Sweden's aforementioned sexual liberalism ... Here is a writer with two skills useful in entertaining readers royally: creating characters who are complex, believable and appealing even when they act against their own best interest; and parceling out information in a consistently enthralling way.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe Girl on the Train is well-written and ingeniously constructed — perhaps a bit too ingeniously.The first-person narrator is now Rachel, now Anna, now Megan, and some of Megan’s soliloquies date from long before her disappearance — yet are strategically inserted between present-day chapters related by Rachel and Anna, making the reader feel a bit manipulated. But the portrait of Rachel as a chronic drunk who just might save herself by playing detective is rich and memorable.
RaveThe Washington PostAt times, the movements of soldiers and civilians in the Bosnia of 2004 become almost too convoluted to follow, but don’t give up. Just when you’re wishing you had jotted down major plot points, a character will deliver a capsule summary of where things stand. Meanwhile, Turow devotees will enjoy the glimpses of stalwarts from previous Kindle County novels ... The real pleasure of the new novel lies not so much in solving the mystery of the massacre as in watching Turow knock down assumption after assumption made by Boom — and the reader. In fact, I can’t think of another novel in which so many givens end up being exposed as either honest mistakes or outright lies. Testimony is a tour de force of collapsing perceptions.
PositiveThe Washington PostMackay portrays organized crime as so enamored of hierarchy and meetings that one can almost imagine the gang going off on a retreat, with pastries and facilitators ... The front matter of Every Night I Dream of Hell includes a dramatis personae that runs to 40-odd entries. Not all of these will reach the end of the book alive, but by my count Malcolm Mackay has left himself with more than enough players to justify further visits to (paraphrasing William Faulkner) his own little postage stamp of soil.
RaveThe Washington PostHideo Yokoyama’s complex, ingenious and engrossing new novel, Six Four, has no serial killers, no femmes fatales, no locked-room murders, no torture, no sexually repressed villains, not even much in the way of forensic evidence. Instead we have one-sided telephone calls (one party does nothing but listen), bureaucratic infighting, snarled relations between the police department of a Japanese prefecture and the local media, and a strikingly original plot ... Jonathan Lloyd-Davies has translated Six Four with unobtrusive brio, and the publisher has obligingly provided a Cast of Characters to help us keep straight a small multitude of cops, wives, reporters and victims. As for the author, he possesses that elusive trait of a first-rate novelist: the ability to grab readers’ interest and never let go.
PositiveThe Washington PostKinzer gets a bit carried away in his last chapter, 'The Deep Hurt,' a potted survey of the interventions and invasions launched by the United States in the century-plus since 1898. It’s more sermon than history, and most readers will already be well aware of the author’s examples from their own memories or previous reading. What Kinzer does extraordinarily well, however, is to remind us how easily the pivotal decisions — the treaty vote, the Supreme Court case and others — could have gone the other way.
RaveThe Washington PostSince the cardinals deliberate in secret and tell no tales, Harris can give his imagination a long leash ... A surprise result is almost de rigueur for an election novel, and Harris does not disappoint. Not only do the cardinals choose a dark horse, but the new pontiff guards an astonishing secret. Regardless of whether you have faith in God, the Church, or neither, Conclave will keep you richly entertained.
MixedThe Washington PostAckroyd can write intelligently and evocatively about these films...But after at least 35 books, his productivity may be taking a toll. The prose is not always as crisp as it should be ... He might also have paid more attention to Hitchcock’s work as a whole ... more astute on his subject’s psychological makeup than on what makes us want to read about him: his approach to the films he made.
Martin Cruz Smith
PositiveThe Washington PostSmith conjures the time and place with a generous dose of what the novelist Evan Connell called 'luminous details' ... Some of the novel’s most piquant scenes center on the behavior of Mussolini and his hangers-on as their world collapses. Pretense, denial, wishful thinking — these are among the stages in the downfall of a duce. Smith tantalizes us with brief glimpses of Mussolini himself ... At times, though, Smith seems to let up on the pedal when he should be pressing down ... may not be the most heart-pounding thriller of the year, but its vivid treatments of a timeless trade and certain little-known aspects of World War II make it well worth your time.
PositiveThe Washington Post...let me assure you that Moor mixes these and other ingredients into a highly satisfying whole, neatly avoiding the pitfall of pretentiousness. On Trails is an engaging blend of travelogue, sociology, history and philosophy that might be summed up as a meditation on the centrality of trails to animal and human life.
Terry Tempest Williams
PositiveThe Washington Post...even with the book’s far-flung collaborators and long reach, the author’s trademark poetic prose dominates every page ... At times The Hour of Land reads as if it had been rushed into print for this year’s National Park Service centennial ... Williams saves a surprise for the end: a dollop of optimism. She portrays the fossil-fuel industry as making 'its last desperate cries' ... Yes, those sentiments may smack of wishful thinking. But after all it was a mentor of Williams’s, Wallace Stegner, who called wilderness 'the geography of hope.'”
MixedThe Washington Post[a] high-spirited and admirably thoroughly new book on FDR ... Brinkley styles Rightful Heritage as a sequel to The Wilderness Warrior, his account of Theodore Roosevelt’s equally stellar environmental record. In the new book, Brinkley can be superficial when it comes to legal issues — it’s not always clear what authority FDR is drawing on when he takes a pro-environmental stance.
PositiveThe Washington PostThe cast includes the obligatory femme fatale, and the plot is intricate enough to satisfy puzzle-minded readers. Occasionally, Kerr takes the easy way out ... But the novel’s pivotal conceit — that in the absurdist world of espionage, the best way to accomplish something might be to purposely botch an attempt to do the opposite — is so well handled that Kerr’s shortcuts hardly matter.
PositiveThe Washington PostFor all the richness of Siegel’s insights, at times he tries too hard...But for the most part, Siegel’s Groucho Marx is trenchant and provocative. I would join any club that has this book in its library.
RaveThe Washington PostHarris seems to have mastered every telling aspect of the world and the conflicts he dramatizes, from the excitement occasioned by each new account of Caesar’s far-off triumphs ('whenever his Commentaries were posted .?.?. crowds would gather and remain there all day reading of his exploits,') to the strategy for conferring executive clemency (above all, make the grantor look good).