A subtly ominous story about voyeurism and the danger of losing yourself in someone else.

THE WOMAN IN THE PURPLE SKIRT

One woman obsessively tracks the movements of another.

The narrator of Japanese novelist Imamura’s deliciously creepy English-language debut likes to watch a woman in her neighborhood known as “the Woman in the Purple Skirt.” The Woman in the Purple Skirt doesn’t do anything particularly interesting. She sits on a bench in the park; she goes to the bakery; she is intermittently employed. But there’s something about her that makes it “impossible not to pay attention,” as the narrator explains. “Nobody could ignore her.” The same isn’t true of the narrator, who refers to herself as “the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan.” Gradually, as Imamura’s taut narrative unfolds, we realize just how much of her own life the narrator is willing to give up or, indeed, destroy for the sake of her obsession. She arranges for the Woman in the Purple Skirt to get a job at the hotel where she works cleaning rooms. They’ve never actually spoken, but our narrator imagines she’ll now get the chance to introduce herself. Instead, the Woman in the Purple Skirt quickly becomes popular with the cliquey other workers, and the Woman in the Yellow Cardigan remains as invisible as ever. Meanwhile, she keeps following the Woman in the Purple Skirt: listening in on her conversations, tracking her purchases, and waiting outside her apartment. Imamura’s pacing is as deft and quick as the best thrillers, but her prose is also understated and quietly subtle. Occasionally the dialogue can feel somewhat canned: “She’s quick about her work,” one of the other hotel workers says, and the response is, “Uh-huh. She sure is.” Still, this is a minor complaint of a novel that is, overall, a resounding success.

A subtly ominous story about voyeurism and the danger of losing yourself in someone else.

Pub Date: June 8, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-14-313602-6

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Penguin

Review Posted Online: May 5, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2021

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Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

THE SABOTEURS

Malign forces want to slow completion of the Panama Canal, but Isaac Bell has plenty to say about that in his 12th tale of derring-do.

In 1914, the U.S. is digging an enormous ditch across the mosquito-infested isthmus of Panama, with “mechanical dragons wreathed in steam” ripping out eight tons at a time in the Culebra Cut. Horrific incidents happen, and they’re not always accidents. A mysterious terrorist group called Viboras Rojas, or Red Vipers, seems responsible for an explosion that kills dozens and delays the canal’s construction. Isaac Bell of the Van Dorn Detective Agency is sent there to investigate, and a team of wild horses wouldn’t keep his wife, Marion, from coming along. Bell keeps mighty busy. Within days, he’s “thwarted an assassination attempt and brought a mad bomber to heel,” and he’s just getting started. The detective is exceptionally observant and ingenious. How he survives a catastrophic landslide is such a combination of quick thinking and luck that readers will hold their breath as they turn the pages, only realizing later how unlikely it all is. Meanwhile, Germany conspires with Argentina to severely delay the canal’s opening—Argentina would lose plenty of oceangoing commerce, and as it girds for war in Europe, Germany fears America’s rise as a global power. The proximate villain is Otto Dreissen, who correctly believes that former President Teddy Roosevelt won’t be able to resist traveling to see “the most transformative engineering feat in history…dangers be damned”—and there is danger, since the kaiser has authorized Roosevelt's assassination. But first Dreissen must arrange an “accident” for Bell, the “man with the nine lives of a cat.” Poor Otto. He should know it’s not that easy to kill off a series hero. Nor a series hero’s wife, even when she’s dangling from a dirigible. A bonus tip to readers: Stay away from manchineel trees and superheated steam.

Fast-paced fun that’s fraught with peril. The Bells are such a nice couple.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-19122-4

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2021

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The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

JACKPOT

CIA operative–turned-killer Teddy Fay, aka Hollywood producer Billy Barnett, gets his fifth sort-of-starring role in a splashy, muddled thriller set in Macau.

Centurion Studios president Ben Bacchetti and his partner, director Peter Barrington, see no reason why their visit to the Macau Film Festival should be all business. They’re dismayed when their visit to a baccarat table at the Golden Desert Casino and Resort is used as material for a deep-fake video that seems to show them cheating. The video, which has evidently been engineered by Bing-Wen “Bingo” Jo, bids fair drag them into the iron grip of fearsome media/casino mogul Arrow Donaldson, for whom Bingo works off the books on matters concerning digital technology and violence. But Centurion producer Teddy, who’s every bit the equal of Bingo and Donaldson fixer Zhou "Ziggy" Peng put together, is on the case. His improbable sometime partners are Li Feng, the heiress and CFO of QuiTel who’s fighting to keep her company exempt from the U.S. blacklist of competing Chinese telecom corporations suspected of spying, and Millie Martindale, a CIA administrator who’s a lot more resourceful than most administrators you’ll ever meet. The first partnership between Woods and Quertermous is full of casino underlings, biddable cops, fake shootings, and doubles living and dead. But the plot never thickens, and readers confident that Teddy will live to fight, pressure, cheat, and kill another day may be indifferent to the fate of the nefarious forces arrayed against him.

The first of Woods’ many collaborations to be unquestionably inferior to his solo performances.

Pub Date: June 1, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-18845-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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