One of the strongest entries yet in this deservedly popular historical series.

MISS KOPP INVESTIGATES

Youngest sibling Fleurette takes up sleuthing on her own in the seventh Kopp Sisters adventure.

It opens on a grim note: The sudden death of their brother, Francis, in January 1919 has left the sisters responsible for his pregnant widow, his two older children, and a mountain of debt they had no inkling of. Each of them makes painful sacrifices: Constance gives up her dream job with the FBI in Washington; Norma abandons her plan to live a freer life in Europe; and a bout with scarlet fever has damaged Fleurette’s voice and her nascent stage career. She’s delighted when a lawyer offers her a well-paying gig as a “professional co-respondent,” helping couples who need to prove adultery to get divorced by posing for compromising photos with the husbands. Although nothing even close to adultery occurs, Fleurette knows her sisters would disapprove, and indeed Constance explodes when she finds out. But Fleurette is sick of being told what to do by Constance and storms off; her ignorance of the fact (which readers of previous novels already know) that she is actually Constance’s illegitimate daughter makes their conflict in this volume particularly wrenching. However, the mysterious behavior of one of the lawyer’s clients gets Fleurette involved in what proves to be a confidence scam targeting vulnerable women, and her attempts to bring the wrongdoer to justice land her in jail. Her sisters come to the rescue, each making her individual, forceful contribution to the satisfying resolution of multiple mysteries: Norma’s overbearing nature is instrumental in unravelling Francis’ catastrophic finances; Constance enlists her law enforcement know-how to smooth over Fleurette’s legal troubles. (As usual, Stewart explains in endnotes what in this fact-based story actually happened and what she invented.) It’s a pleasure to watch Fleurette, rather tiresomely vain and self-centered in earlier novels, mature into a strong, independent woman very much in the Kopp mold. As always, Stewart leaves us with the welcome promise of more Kopp sisters adventures to come.

One of the strongest entries yet in this deservedly popular historical series.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-358-09311-4

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

THE DICTIONARY OF LOST WORDS

The Herculean efforts required to assemble the Oxford English Dictionary are retold, this time from a fictionalized, distaff point of view, in Williams’ debut novel.

Esme Nicoll, the motherless young daughter of a lexicographer working in the Scriptorium—in reality, a garden shed in Oxford where a team led by James Murray, one of the OED’s editors, toiled—accompanies her father to work frequently. The rigor and passion with which the project is managed is apparent to the sensitive and curious Esme, as is the fact that the editorial team of men labors under the influence of Victorian-era mores. Esme begins a clandestine operation to rescue words which have been overlooked or intentionally omitted from the epic dictionary. Her childhood undertaking becomes a lifelong endeavor, and her efforts to validate the words which flew under the (not yet invented) radar of the OED gatekeepers gain traction at the same time the women’s suffrage movement fructifies in England. The looming specter of World War I lends tension to Esme’s personal saga while a disparate cast of secondary characters adds pathos and depth. Underlying this panoramic account are lexicographical and philosophical interrogatives: Who owns language, does language reflect or affect, who chooses what is appropriate, why is one meaning worthier than another, what happens when a word mutates in meaning? (For example, the talismanic word first salvaged by Esme, bondmaid, pops up with capricious irregularity and amorphous meaning throughout the lengthy narrative.) Williams provides readers with detailed background and biographical information pointing to extensive research about the OED and its editors, many of whom appear as characters in Esme’s life. The result is a satisfying amalgam of truth and historical fiction.

Who tells your story? Williams illuminates why women needed to be in the room where, and when, it’s written.

Pub Date: April 6, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-16019-0

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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