A second novel that’s several cuts above the average thriller, largely because it keeps to a human level and oils its wheels with immensely amusing non sequiturs. Once again, Mills (Rising Phoenix,1997) focuses on a quasi-religious group as a basis for the story’s moral ambiguities. This time, it’s the Church of the Evolution, whose 11 million clean-cut members parallel Scientology’s in paying heavy dues to rise through stages and achieve jealously guarded top status as “clears.” The group in this case is led not by L. Ron Hubbard but by the much more brilliant and human 80-year-old Albert Kneiss. Like Scientology, the Church has its so-called enemies in Germany, but here this is only a publicity ploy to attract Americans devoted to religious freedom. Kneiss, however, the messenger of God who returns to Earth every 2,000 years, is dying—or rather ascending to God—and a replacement leader is needed. This turns out to be Kneiss’s long-hidden granddaughter Jennifer Davis, whose mother is dead but who has been adopted by secret Church members Eric and Patricia Davis. All along, the Church’s business and membership sides have been run by Sara Renslier, Mills’s charismatic villain, who now has Jennifer kidnaped and her “parents” killed before her eyes. Investigating is Mark Beamon, a loose cannon FBI agent who’s been given a post in Flagstaff to run. Overweight, overdrinking Beamon is no beauty but has a very heady IQ and the highest success rate in the Bureau for solving kidnapings. Now, though, he finds himself up against an organization with fantastic powers, with members (like the Mormons) everywhere—in Congress, the Bureau, the police. Soon, his credit cards are turned to zilch, his every move dogged, a painful rumor is spread that he’s a child molester, and news stories appear about his drinking. Even the Bureau’s ready to crush him. Mills shapes his stereotypes with human clay, and excels at one-liners that quickly draw a reader into his spirited storytelling.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-06-101250-5

Page Count: 400

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 1998

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

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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.


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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