Of appeal to fans of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, as well as aficionados of a good adventure layered with batteries,...

THE TECHNOLOGISTS

Brains and technology battle evil in Pearl’s (The Last Dickens, 2009, etc.) latest, an improbable but entertaining yarn of weird science.

Marcus Mansfield is trying to adjust to life as a civilian following years in a Confederate prison. He is a diffident and cautious fellow: “He did not volunteer for the war to be a hero, nor to change the world, either, but did think it was the best thing a man could do.” He also wants to be left alone, having applied for a night watchman’s job for the solitude and instead finding work in a dark corner of a machine shop, where he puts his talents to use designing things that are much ahead of their time. In a Boston scarcely bigger than a suburb today, he draws the attention of the head of a new school on the Back Bay along “surroundings that were grandly artificial, where the pupils would observe the way in which civil engineers could turn malodorous swamp...into a landscape of wide streets.” All this comes just in time for the chase at hand, for someone has in turn been sabotaging the shipping in Boston’s busy harbor, turning compasses upside down and sending freighters and schooners plowing into the docks at crazy angles. It’s up to Mansfield and a team of proto-geeks at MIT to figure out what sort of devious soul would want to make like a whale and wreak Moby-Dick’s vengeance on the good brahmins of Beacon Hill—and while the answer, which takes a good long time in coming, isn’t in the least bit predictable, it also makes sense once it comes into focus. Marcus’ enthusiasm for the chase is delightful—“We’ll need Tech’s best physicist on hand, of course!”—as is Pearl’s appreciation for both 19th-century science and technology and affection for Beantown and its history.

Of appeal to fans of Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes films, as well as aficionados of a good adventure layered with batteries, transformers and navigational tools.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4000-6657-5

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Jan. 9, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2012

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Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

THE NIGHTINGALE

Hannah’s new novel is an homage to the extraordinary courage and endurance of Frenchwomen during World War II.

In 1995, an elderly unnamed widow is moving into an Oregon nursing home on the urging of her controlling son, Julien, a surgeon. This trajectory is interrupted when she receives an invitation to return to France to attend a ceremony honoring passeurs: people who aided the escape of others during the war. Cut to spring, 1940: Viann has said goodbye to husband Antoine, who's off to hold the Maginot line against invading Germans. She returns to tending her small farm, Le Jardin, in the Loire Valley, teaching at the local school and coping with daughter Sophie’s adolescent rebellion. Soon, that world is upended: The Germans march into Paris and refugees flee south, overrunning Viann’s land. Her long-estranged younger sister, Isabelle, who has been kicked out of multiple convent schools, is sent to Le Jardin by Julien, their father in Paris, a drunken, decidedly unpaternal Great War veteran. As the depredations increase in the occupied zone—food rationing, systematic looting, and the billeting of a German officer, Capt. Beck, at Le Jardin—Isabelle’s outspokenness is a liability. She joins the Resistance, volunteering for dangerous duty: shepherding downed Allied airmen across the Pyrenees to Spain. Code-named the Nightingale, Isabelle will rescue many before she's captured. Meanwhile, Viann’s journey from passive to active resistance is less dramatic but no less wrenching. Hannah vividly demonstrates how the Nazis, through starvation, intimidation and barbarity both casual and calculated, demoralized the French, engineering a community collapse that enabled the deportations and deaths of more than 70,000 Jews. Hannah’s proven storytelling skills are ideally suited to depicting such cataclysmic events, but her tendency to sentimentalize undermines the gravitas of this tale.

Still, a respectful and absorbing page-turner.

Pub Date: Feb. 3, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-312-57722-3

Page Count: 448

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 20, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2014

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THE TATTOOIST OF AUSCHWITZ

An unlikely love story set amid the horrors of a Nazi death camp.

Based on real people and events, this debut novel follows Lale Sokolov, a young Slovakian Jew sent to Auschwitz in 1942. There, he assumes the heinous task of tattooing incoming Jewish prisoners with the dehumanizing numbers their SS captors use to identify them. When the Tätowierer, as he is called, meets fellow prisoner Gita Furman, 17, he is immediately smitten. Eventually, the attraction becomes mutual. Lale proves himself an operator, at once cagey and courageous: As the Tätowierer, he is granted special privileges and manages to smuggle food to starving prisoners. Through female prisoners who catalog the belongings confiscated from fellow inmates, Lale gains access to jewels, which he trades to a pair of local villagers for chocolate, medicine, and other items. Meanwhile, despite overwhelming odds, Lale and Gita are able to meet privately from time to time and become lovers. In 1944, just ahead of the arrival of Russian troops, Lale and Gita separately leave the concentration camp and experience harrowingly close calls. Suffice it to say they both survive. To her credit, the author doesn’t flinch from describing the depravity of the SS in Auschwitz and the unimaginable suffering of their victims—no gauzy evasions here, as in Boy in the Striped Pajamas. She also manages to raise, if not really explore, some trickier issues—the guilt of those Jews, like the tattooist, who survived by doing the Nazis’ bidding, in a sense betraying their fellow Jews; and the complicity of those non-Jews, like the Slovaks in Lale’s hometown, who failed to come to the aid of their beleaguered countrymen.

The writing is merely serviceable, and one can’t help but wish the author had found a way to present her material as nonfiction. Still, this is a powerful, gut-wrenching tale that is hard to shake off.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-279715-5

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2018

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