While somewhat uncategorizable, this dark gem of a novel is supremely gratifying.

BROKEN VESSELS

An ingenious reimagining of the Old Man narrative from Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale,” McCall’s latest is a speculative fiction tour de force that follows one man’s quest for vengeance over centuries and multiple lives.

Using elements of folkloric fantasy, medieval myth, and literary fiction, this impressively interstitial novel is set in the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in a city conspicuously absent of life. The initially nameless narrator—a collector who may be suffering from dissociative identity disorder—disregards the shelter-in-place mandate to walk to an independent bookstore whose owner, via a rare-books forum, has declared that he has an original copy of Chaucer’s “The Pardoner’s Tale.” The bookstore owner, who goes by Hydrant, has told the man that he can have the priceless manuscript—but only if he listens to Hydrant’s story. In the middle of an infected city, the two men sit together, share a few shots of tequila, and Hydrant begins his jaw-dropping tale of love, revenge, and obsession. Hydrant, it seems, has been chasing the narrator for more than 700 years—over several lifetimes—seeking revenge for when the man, as a rich Norseman back in 1269 Greenland, killed the beloved wife of Hydrant, who was then an Inuit hunter named Anyu. Hydrant, who can transfer his life essence to another body when necessary, has been struggling to obtain the ultimate vengeance on his enemy, who has been cursed to walk the Earth forever. Powered by razor-focused writing, relentless pacing, and a masterfully intricate storyline that includes references to Freud, Descartes, and Edvard Munch, this tightly woven novel reads like a Ray Bradbury short story—especially the brass knuckle thematic impact of the conclusion.

While somewhat uncategorizable, this dark gem of a novel is supremely gratifying.

Pub Date: June 26, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73436-525-2

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Trevor McCall

Review Posted Online: Jan. 18, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2022

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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