A few clunkers aside: a very entertaining volume.

SHADOWS OVER BAKER STREET

NEW TALES OF TERROR

Conan Doyle’s immortal creations Holmes and Watson battle enigmatic forces of darkness in this smartly conceived collection of 18 new tales of intrigue, detection, and horror.

Each story proceeds from the premise that the dauntless duo are engaged to solve crimes whose perpetrators are eerily reminiscent of phenomena described in H.P. Lovecraft’s grisly Ctulhu Mythos stories. The manual of black arts studied by such creatures is the dreaded Necronomicon, conveniently described (in editor Reaves’s “The Adventure of the Arab’s Manuscript”) as “a compendium of ancient lore and forbidden knowledge concerning various pre-Adamite beings and creations, some of extraterrestrial origin, who once ruled the earth and who anticipate doing so again”). Several stories do too little with the core idea of overreaching antiquaries who unwisely summon slumbering supernatural entities. But there are several noteworthy exceptions. The volume is neatly bracketed by ever-dependable Neil Gaiman’s witty imagining of Holmes’s first encounter with his archenemy Professor Moriarty (“A Study in Emerald”) and Simon Clark’s “Nightmare in Wax,” in which Moriarty gains possession of the Necronomicon, with amusingly ghastly and surprising consequences. The best of the remainder: a delicious battle of wits between Holmes and a Balinese beauty who pits herself against a man-eating demon (Steve Perry’s “The Case of the Wavy Black Dagger”); the combined efforts of Holmes and his sedentary, brilliant sibling Mycroft to rescue a sea captain cursed by an exotic stone carving (Brian Stableford’s “Art in the Blood”); John P. Vourlis’s nicely plotted tale of an entire village overcome by an unnatural sleeplessness (“A Case of Insomnia”); and F. Gwynplaine McIntyre’s stunning “The Adventure of Exham Priory,” an ingenious reworking of the familiar incident of Holmes’s misadventure at the Reichenbach Falls. Other notable contributions are by genre veterans Barbara Hambly and Tim Lebbon and less familiar authors Steven Elliott-Altman and James Lowder.

A few clunkers aside: a very entertaining volume.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2003

ISBN: 0-345-45528-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2003

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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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