BLACK CROSS

Iles (Spandau Phoenix, 1993) delivers a swift historical thriller of such brutal accomplishment that it vaporizes almost every clichÇ about the limits of the genre. It's 1944, and American pacifist Dr. Mark McConnell is recruited from his Oxford chemistry lab by a cagey Scotsman, Brigadier Duff Smith, to undertake a potential suicide mission into Nazi Germany. The Reich possesses horrifying weapons that the Allies suspect Hitler will use against their D-Day invasion forces: Sarin and Soman, nerve gases of unprecedented deadliness. Forbidden from assigning Brits to the mission, but with Churchill's secret blessing, Brigadier Smith pairs McConnell with Jonas Stern, a militant Zionist of German descent, and ships the reluctant duo off to the Scottish Highlands for a crash course in commando skills before parachuting them into Germany. The objective: Release an Allied version of Sarin, code named ``Black Cross,'' on Totenhausen, the very death camp that serves as the Nazi's crucible for further gas research—a camp where Jews are the subjects for the grisly experiments of the sadistic pederast Dr. Klaus Brandt. If the plan succeeds, Hitler will be deterred from deploying his gases on the Normandy beaches. But there's a catch: No one gets out alive (even though Smith has arranged a submarine escape, he expects his operatives to perish with everyone else). That outcome fails to captivate either McConnell or Stern, and it is their decision to tinker with strategy, and the consequent improvisations, that pumps the story so full of runaway-train excitement. Stumbling across ardent co-conspirators and enemy sickos at almost every turn (from a friendly German nurse to a deludedly romantic Nazi major), McConnell learns to kill, terrorist Stern acquires an awkward compassion, and both men take a harrowing wartime ride straight to the century's moral heart of darkness. With time as, alternately, ally and adversary, the good guys struggle to deal their crippling blow to the Nazi war machine. Good enough to read twice. (Author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 1995

ISBN: 0-525-93829-X

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1994

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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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More about grief and tragedy than romance.

FRIENDS FOREVER

Five friends meet on their first day of kindergarten at the exclusive Atwood School and remain lifelong friends through tragedy and triumph.

When Gabby, Billy, Izzie, Andy and Sean meet in the toy kitchen of the kindergarten classroom on their first day of school, no one can know how strong the group’s friendship will remain. Despite their different personalities and interests, the five grow up together and become even closer as they come into their own talents and life paths. But tragedy will strike and strike again. Family troubles, abusive parents, drugs, alcohol, stress, grief and even random bad luck will put pressure on each of them individually and as a group. Known for her emotional romances, Steel makes a bit of a departure with this effort that follows a group of friends through young adulthood. But even as one tragedy after another befalls the friends, the impact of the events is blunted by a distant narrative style that lacks emotional intensity. 

More about grief and tragedy than romance.

Pub Date: July 24, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-385-34321-3

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2012

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