PositiveChicago TribuneFredrickson...is a sneaky stylist. On the one hand, he deftly engages in classic, hard-boiled tropes ... [yet] not many journalism thrillers get as much right as this one does. Rigg’s inserted stories read like actual reportage. Fredrickson skillfully documents the anxieties of a threatened industry ... For all that, The Black Cage boasts a subtle modernist streak. If most crime novels cut sharp, crooked paths to their resolution, this one moves slowly, as if finding its way through a fog. There are no sudden breakthroughs to provide excitement; revelations arrive via the local line, not the express ... If in the early parts of the novel the young victims get a bit lost in the narrative shuffle, their absence ultimately leaves a deep imprint.
MixedChicago TribuneEven by Gruley’s irrepressible standards, Purgatory Bay is pretty loopy—a monster movie dressed up as crime fiction ... Purgatory Bay is more calculating than emotionally driven. The plot design tends to outrace and in some cases shortchange the characters. But any thriller in which the villain is motivated by the writings of Flannery O’Connor is not to be dismissed. And Purgatory Bay plugs neatly into the history of bureaucratic corruption, land schemes, dysfunctional families and grudge matches Gruley has sketched out in previous efforts. The new novel beckons readers to come on in, even if the water’s not so fine.
MixedChicago TribuneFargo maintains a scalpel-like control over her characters, even when they themselves are out of control ... Ultimately, Temper the novel doesn’t leave enough on the page. For all of Malcolm’s magnetism...we leave him as we found him. He is an enigma, a dark ghostly presence whose inner life Fargo doesn’t seem to have any more of a grasp on than the rest of us ... you can’t help wondering how much deeper, revealing—and, with its mystery element, more suspenseful—Temper would be had Fargo divided its first person narration between Kira and Malcolm instead of Kira and the passive, not-so-interesting Joanna ... It’s a testament to Fargo’s ability to evoke the fiercest reality while engaging in equally revealing flights of personal truth that the [theater] critic stuff stands out.
RaveChicago Tribune...these stories, which are frequently as short as a few lines or paragraphs (the shorter ones may be the best), never seem confined to the pages on which they appear. Though set in different eras, going back to the ’60s, as well as in different time zones, they float over and under each other, their recurring characters cutting across time and space. Though they’re arranged in titled, suite-like sections, you get the sense that they’d work in any just about any order you chose ... Maggie Brown & Others is so full of brilliant, reverberant lines—and cuttingly funny ones as well—they are like critics’ popcorn: You can’t stop citing \'em.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune\"But in his new memoir, the leader of Chicago’s long-running band Wilco isn’t interested in the usual rehashings of life and career. Those expecting lots of backstage dish will have to settle for his account of being mistaken for an usher at the Grammys by Sean \'Diddy\' Combs ... Tweedy... is much more interested in examining the painful lessons he has learned from his life as a songwriter and a family man. In this he succeeds in entertaining and oddly revealing ways, moving with shape-shifting ease from wry self-effacement to what he calls Midwestern sarcasm to naked confession ... Considering Tweedy’s life-threatening addictions and his wife’s frightening bouts with cancer, you can understand why such distant events might lose some of their edge. \'Leaving behind as many of the myths surrounding suffering and art as I possibly could was the only path forward,\' he writes. This book is a significant step in that direction.\
PositiveChicago Tribune\"Shell Game could hardly be more timely with its pointed riffs on #MeToo, the brutality of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the long reach of Russian oligarchs. At the same time, the novel is rooted in classic noir.\
PositiveChicago Tribune\"Lou Berney seamlessly blends classic noir and star-crossed romance. And he’s a beautiful writer... You only wish that, as exciting as the highly touted November Road is, it didn’t settle for using the assassination as a plot device and looked deeper through the dark shadows it cast — and casts still.\
MixedThe Chicago TribuneAs ever, the byplay between Galbraith\'s classic, Agatha Christie-inspired plotting and flighty characters on the one hand and such contemporary details as the rampant use of the F-word, text messages and Kanye West creates an enjoyable floating time feel. With its subtle treatment of politics, class warfare and displacement, this is a book that essentially could be set at any time during the past hundred years. But while the complicated plot is admirably well-constructed, Lethal White lacks the narrative juice of past installments in the series. For all its twists and turns, you never really get caught up in the mystery, which never seems to matter as much as the star-crossed feelings that Strike and Robin have for each other. ... Robin reveals herself to be quite good at skullduggery in the halls of power and at the art of disguise (love the chalked hair). But having seen her make such striking personal advances in Career of Evil, it\'s disappointing to see her take two steps back here. She spends way too much time rationalizing her bad marriage. And on the job, Strike is the one who comes up with all the big insights ... Here\'s hoping that in her next adventure, Robin leaves behind idle-hood in all good ways.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneFew, if any, mystery writers have treated the opioid crisis as powerfully as former Tribune columnist Julia Keller does in her latest Bell Elkins novel ... Keller writes with such empathy and cutting strength, she overcomes any narrative lapses. And in the face of ongoing tragedy, she somehow lifts spirits.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneLike his hero Elmore Leonard, Pelecanos finds the humanity in the lowest of lowlifes (the garrulous Ornazian is so proud of his wife, he thinks nothing of showing nude photos of her to friends). And Pelecanos\' peppery dialogue energizes every page. As a bonus, the book offers an ongoing \'read list\' of the author\'s favorites ... Picturing them on Michael\'s new bookshelf, you can\'t help but smile.
RaveChicago Tribune\"... terrific ... The way in which French turns the unreliable narrator ploy on its head is genius. And the scenes in which Toby is interrogated by the drolly insinuating police Detective Rafferty undercut the squalid events with humor. No fan of French’s great Dublin Murder Squad series will want her to be on leave from it for long, but if she keeps producing head-spinners like this, many of us will be up for making that sacrifice.\
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneSetting herself apart from Christie wannabes, Rader-Day bounces the characters off one another to sometimes hilarious effect, while at the same time reflecting on the inner state of a woman left alone and grieving. Eden\'s recovery is complicated by her inability to withstand darkness, or sleeplessness, since her husband\'s death. \'I wasn\'t guilty,\' she asks her dizzy, detached self. \'Was I?\'
PositiveChicago TribuneMichael Moreci makes a serious foray into espionage fiction with this brisk and timely thriller ... The Throwaway boasts a wide assortment of cliches and stock characters ... But Moreci is good at action scenes, [and] a friendly female double agent livens things up ... Moreci\'s unassuming style also pays dividends: This is that rare contemporary thriller that is happy to treat the reader to a clean, linear narrative.
PositiveChicago TribuneIn Baltimore-based spy master Dan Fesperman\'s latest, the past eerily overlaps with the present via two artfully linked stories ... Like the best espionage novels, Safe Houses brilliantly traces the distance between high moral ground and low. Part of the fun of the book is reading it for a second time and seeing how the narrative seeds of the first part enrich and deepen what occurs in part two.
PositiveChicago Tribune...[a] marvelous mystery tour of Paris ... Murder on the Left Bank boasts all of Black\'s trademark charms, including deft plotting, sharp dialog and colorful sights and sounds.
RaveChicago TribuneIn the tantalizing new thriller Bluff, Michael Kardos reveals himself to be a master at dealing from the middle of the deck. More than once, you're sure of the fate of Natalie, a 27-year-old magician who has run out of luck, inspiration and money. But then Kardos fools you with his smooth shell game ... Bluff doesn't miss a trick.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneIn infusing noir tradition with feminist resolve, Barbed Wire Hear pulls off something rare. Harley may be ridden with guilt and overcome by the feeling that she's incapable of being loved, but in her pursuit of a life of her own, she has only begun to fight.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneForce of Nature moves with methodic ease between present and past, teasing readers with unexplained references ... In homing in on the personal stories of the missing woman and her four female colleagues Harper eases up in other ways on psychological intensity, leaning toward more traditional whodunit strategies. Though she can be whistled for one plot device that seems a bit too convenient, she is such a good storyteller that you don't mind the misstep. The ease with which she shifts points of view and somehow makes disagreeable people sympathetic is special. So is her skill at ratcheting up the suspense. Harper, anything but a flash in the pan, has again raised the bar for emerging crime writers.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneKent Anderson is one of the unsung legends of crime fiction, largely because he spreads his work so thin. His quietly staggering new novel, which brings back his alter ego Hanson, completes an autobiographical trilogy he began three decades ago.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"Down the River Unto the Sea, which is dedicated to Malcolm X, Medgar Evers and Martin Luther King Jr., raises essential questions: What is the proper response to sanctioned hate and violence? What meaning do guilt and innocence have at a time when the law is broken as a matter of course by the people hired or elected to uphold it? … One of the remarkable things about this novel is how soft-spoken and reflective protagonist King remains in recalling the worst moments of his life, employing humor to deflect the pain … Mosley may be outspoken in real life in calling for social and political change. But in his fiction, story and character come first — in this case in exhilarating fashion.\
A. J. Finn
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneLike all high-concept thrillers, The Woman in the Window can afford nary a misstep, or risk falling apart like a tower of playing cards. To the author's credit, the plot is very nearly airtight. And for all the narrative effects, Finn never loses touch with the fear and insecurity of a woman who has suffered a great loss and feels abandoned and alone in the world ... The book, which features a bunch of oddballs with hidden motives, including the young drifter renting her basement apartment and the troubled son of one of the Jane Russells, dips a bit when the laughs stop coming — a trap Hitchcock never fell into. But it's not a book you can easily put down.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAs a social commentator, McBride would no sooner indulge in didacticism than the rap-loving Gatekeeper would indulge in Dixieland. The author of the National Book Award-winning novel The Good Lord Bird possesses a biting wit, but disarms it with his calm, plainspoken style ... A consummate entertainer, McBride has the comic energy and antic spirit of Richard Pryor ... For all his good graces, McBride takes pleasure in skewering people driven by self-interest and indifference. There's a lying lawyer who mistreats his guides and a fellow climber during his trek on Mt. Everest. And there's a TV news reporter who helps sensationalize a Chinese grocery store shooting: 'If she was two-faced, I think she could've used the other one.' If that doesn't sum up the current state of the union, I don't know what does.
John Le Carré
RaveThe Chicago Tribunele Carre again stakes his claim as the only contemporary spy novelist who really matters. In revisiting The Spy Who Came in from the Cold, le Carre gets to peel back its narrative to reveal juicy new details, with no lack of dark humor. He also gets to frame the story in the consciousness of a new era. His central theme, more potent than ever, is 'how much of our human feeling can we dispense with in the name of freedom ... before we cease to feel either human or free?' Or, how long will it be before the violence we commit in the name of peace and religion destroy those values? A kind of eulogy for the present as well as the past, A Legacy of Spies is haunting in the way it downgrades human connections and casts out Peter Guillam from a hopeful existence.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneAs strong a thriller as Love Like Blood is, Billingham fails to fully capture the monstrosity of these crimes and the people who countenance them in the name of morality. Having a comically mismatched pair of killers do the evil deeds doesn't help. But if Love Like Blood doesn't rise to the level of other Billingham novels, it's still a solid effort, bolstered by the social conscience that sets him apart.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneWriting about the instantly appealing police Detective Renee Ballard recharges Connelly, who has never been in better form ... Even after all these novels, Connelly hasn't run out of things to tell us about police procedure. One abduction scene plays out in surprising ways, ultimately calling into question the very act of self-defense. It grounds itself with references to real crimes ... For all the stark drama and realism in his books, Connelly is ever aware of the need to entertain.
RaveThe Chicago Tribune\"[Winslow\'s] gut punch of a new cop thriller, The Force, gets so deep inside the horror of what Homicide author David Simon called life on the street, it leaves you fearful that its invented outcomes will become reality ... once the author, a former investigator, starts tightening the screws of this by stunning drama, it has you unrelentingly in its grip.\
RaveThe Chicago TribuneMost novelists would let Yadin's sad, soulful tale carry the day and employ Jeanette as a literary backup singer. But for Lee, her life is no less meaningful — or, in a spiritual sense, magnificent — in all its heartbreaks and derailed hopes … The title of the novel, taken from one of Yadin's new songs, has a double meaning. Yadin says it refers to the state of lonesomeness that lies ahead. But in more significant ways, it addresses the ‘lonesome lies’ — the sad, unexceptional mistruths — that can shape people's lives … Like a great album — Parsons' Grievous Angel, let's say — Lonesome Lies Before Us is both a collection of brilliantly realized moments and a work that transcends the sum of its parts. There are no minor observations in this novel, no scenes that don't matter. In the end, the depth of feeling attained by the exceptionally sensitive Lee lingers, inspiring more spins through his songlike prose. A novel more full of life, musical and other, is hard to imagine.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneIt's a compelling story, told with Turow's usual ease, authority and understated humor. But after all these years, he can't escape the shadow of Presumed Innocent — nor, for all the distance his protagonist travels, does he seem to want to. Boom's ill-advised affair with the sexually charged Esma can't help but recall the far more incendiary illicit romance between Rusty Sabich and Carolyn Polhemus. Perhaps if Boom were less straight-laced, the affair would heat up the pages. As it is, it's rather lukewarm in a by-the-numbers kind of way.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneFree of the period demands of his excellent recent novels, Lehane is in feisty form, channeling classic noir with cutting irony. As ever, he has you falling for his seemingly effortless command as a writer and the ease with which he sinks his hooks into you.
PanThe Chicago TribuneHawkins' sophomore effort disappoints on all counts. Like a washing machine stuck in spin cycle, without the sudsy emotion that would give it pulp appeal, Into the Water goes over and over the same ground for nearly 400 pages, tossing its large cast of narrators together to confusing effect ... For all of the book's eerie trappings, Hawkins fails to capture the dark powers the Drowning Pool is said to have. Like many other elements in this overcooked, underachieving novel, it's one-dimensional.
PositiveThe Chicago Tribune...[an] offbeat, powerfully unsettling murder mystery ... The deeper you get into the free-streaming narratives of Ill Will, which moves back and forth in time, changing points of view, the hazier they become. Painting the past with what one character calls a 'swimmy quality,' Ill Will undercuts the reliability and usefulness of memories ... the writerly stagecraft keeps the reader off guard and sometimes on edge, in a kind of altered cognitive state. There's a lot going on under the surface of Ill Will — more than one reading will reveal. Going back and reading this oddly compelling book again will only provide more pleasure.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIt has been a long time since a novel captured a time and place as powerfully as Emma Flint's shattering debut ... she is hardly the creature of low morals and icy veins who is driving tabloid sales. Her devastating inner monologues reveal quite the opposite: Her grief 'was black and hungry and huge like an open, roaring mouth...And inside it: the loneliness, the loss, the lost-ness.' In portraying '60s New York culture with all its boozing, corruption and sexism, Flint goes where Mad Men dared not go. That the author is British makes her achievement all the more amazing.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneNumerous biographies have been written about Alabama native Hiram King Williams...But none catalogs the drinking, sexual profligacy and assorted misadventures of the legend as thoroughly and relentlessly as Mark Ribowsky's Hank ... For readers with gaper's syndrome, the pileups in these pages may be hard to turn away from. But for all the reportage on the wreckage that was Williams' life, the singer largely remains a cipher ... But Hank fails to get far enough under the artist's skin...Ribowsky also fails to illuminate how Williams' transcendent songs and performances could arise from what was in many ways a mundane existence.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneOne of the saddest aspects of Another Day in the Death of America is its lack of surprise ... [it] is not a book geared toward penetrating the walls of detachment and even indifference that everyday citizens build to deal (or not deal) with the violence ... Younge's anecdotal style has a measured strength ... The author's difficulty in finding and questioning relatives of the young shooting victims proves a stumbling block he can't always get past.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneNeither French nor her hard-edged, gloriously rough-speaking detective are in any hurry to put the pieces of these narratives together. The book, sometimes to a fault, largely consists of long, discursive dialogue scenes. The crime is approached from every conceivable angle ... The Trespasser is not without its stock characters...But there's nothing standard about French's approach to crime fiction, which plays the form much like a jazz musician improvising on a standard. Even when the outlines of the mystery seem familiar, as they do in The Trespasser, she finds a way to get at enriching themes and powerful emotional truths in fresh and surprising ways.
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneThough Novak is not the most charismatic hero, the book's atmospheric power and strong cast of supporting characters make Rise the Dark compelling from the get go. As usual in a Koryta novel, there is a supernatural aspect to the story, one that is subtly applied here but promises to play a sizable role in Novak's future adventures.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneIn hijacking young-adult fiction for her own devious grown-up purposes, [Abbott] writes from such a chilly remove you may want to turn up the thermostat. But the underlying tension she sustains is so beautifully unbearable, you may be unable to leave the couch ... [an] un-put-downable new novel ... Abbott is a literary descendant of Richard Yates, John Cheever and other writers who captured what used to be called lives of quiet desperation.
Erik Axl Sund
MixedThe Chicago TribuneSund is relentless in scraping away at both physical and psychological wounds, leaving us with scenes and images that may make you leave the room: 'the wave of sour sweat as his pants fall to the floor.' Ultimately, The Crow Girl — the first entry, I hasten to point out, in a trilogy — is unable to keep up with itself. Various stretches sag. But fired up by moral concerns, this book's engine never stops humming.
Ben H. Winters
PositiveNewsdayUnderground Airlines boasts plenty of priceless details ... imbuing the proceedings with a deep sense of morality, sparing neither North nor South, Winters allows himself to cut loose in preacherly fashion ... That Winters is white adds a layer of complexity to the book. Perhaps acknowledging his audacity in taking authorial ownership of the slavery narrative, he has a black Indiana cop who works with Barton criticize the priest for having a 'Mockingbird’ mentality' — believing that 'the white man is the saver, the black man gets saved.'
PositiveThe Chicago TribuneHowever creepy the circumstances, though, it's the disembodiment of the characters that grabs us the most. 'Spoiler alert!' warn stickers on copies of the book, inviting readers who 'want to talk about what happens' to do so on a designated web page. But what happens plot-wise in I'm Thinking of Ending Things — even in its tingliest moments — is of secondary interest ... Reid, a Canadian whose writing seems influenced by the great Toronto-based filmmaker David Cronenberg, is a master of tension — and more tension. Never does he release us from his unsettling grip ...That's a lot of philosophic weight for a slim, 200-page volume to bear (Jung gets name checked, as does Thomas Bernhard). But with his relentless attack and edgy, pared-down, sneaky prose, Reid pulls it off ... this is the boldest and most original literary thriller to appear in some time.
RaveThe Chicago TribuneUltimately, Wilde Lake is not so much a crime novel that rises to the level of serious literature as serious literature that rises to the level of great crime fiction ... In the case of this novel, the form allows the author to share her outspoken female wisdom on everything from civil rights — though recent events in Baltimore are only alluded to, they haunt the narrative — to homosexuality during the poisonous Reagan era to parenthood. Though we always want there to be a reason for the things our children do, Lu says as narrator, sometimes 'the wheel spins and you get a damaged kid.'
RaveThe Chicago TribuneAs fertile as Chicago is for crime fiction, it isn't often that an outsider captures the underside of the local scene as memorably as Steve Hamilton does with The Second Life of Nick Mason, the terrific first installment in a projected series ... Loudly promoted on social media, the novel more than lives up to its hype. In so doing, it introduces a promising second life for Hamilton as well.
MixedThe Chicago TribuneMartel's blend of fable, magic realism, road comedy and religious philosophy never coheres. But there's no denying the simple pleasures to be had in The High Mountains of Portugal
RaveThe Chicago Tribune...this short novel is less about the making of a psychopath than the deep imprint guns have made on the collective consciousness. The notion that guns don't kill people, people do, is chillingly rebuked.