Fiction from Gekoski, Henderson, Knecht, Osborne, and Straley | Xpress Reviews

For fans of gripping historical fiction and family dramas; this fictionalized account of a truly historic storm will be of great interest to readers of Long Island and southern New England history; more a literary coming-of-age tale than a full-blown espionage thriller; fans of the Raymond Chandler originals will find much to like here; for fans of the Younger series, this is a treat

Week ending June 22, 2018

LONG ISLAND STORIES

starred review starGekoski, Rick. A Long Island Story. Canongate. Jul. 2018. 320p.ISBN 9781786893420. $25; ebk. ISBN 9781786893406. F
It’s 1953, and attorney Ben Grossman is losing his job with the federal government because of his history with communism. Ben and wife Addie have decided to move to Long Island, NY, with their two children to make a new life. However, starting over is not easy. Ben must pass the New York State Bar. Addie will have to try to get along with their neighbors—her brother and sister-in-law—whose behaviors she finds appalling. The children will have to attend a public school instead of the posh DC private school paid for by their grandfather. Every step the Grossmans take seems to be laden with potholes and threatened with memories. Anyone who remembers the McCarthy era, the Red Scare, and its repercussions for everyday people will be unable to put this book down. Gekoski’s (Darke) second novel, however, is much more than political. The way the author describes family relationships, his depictions of the traumas the relocation causes— not only to the adults but also to the children—his characterization of the loving grandparents who rise to the occasion demonstrate his ability create a family with all its blemishes and all its goodness.

Verdict For fans of gripping historical fiction and family dramas.—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS

Henderson, Genie Chipps. A Day Like Any Other: The Great Hamptons Hurricane of 1938. Pushcart. Aug. 2018. 320p. ISBN 9781888889918. $25. F
On Long Island, NY, life for ordinary working people and wealthy summer visitors is upended when an unpredicted hurricane sneaks up on the Hamptons one September afternoon in 1938. Henderson (A Woman of the World) interweaves several story lines in the months and hours leading up to this deadly, destructive storm, favoring the hard-working locals but dwelling more on the rich folks. It’s difficult to care for the elite and their self-absorbed existence, but once the storm hits, the tale becomes totally engrossing. The impact of this natural disaster on land and people is the best part of the novel.

Verdict This fictionalized account of a truly historic storm will be of great interest to readers of Long Island and southern New England history. Without that connection, others will be bored by the well-written but unengaging lead-in and not wait for the hurricane to hit them with its full force.—W. Keith McCoy, Somerset Cty. Lib. Syst., Bridgewater, NJ

Knecht, Rosalie. Who Is Vera Kelly? Tin House. Jun. 2018. 274p. ISBN 9781947793019. pap. $15.95; ebk. ISBN 9781947793026. F

Who is the titular protagonist of Knecht’s (Relief Map) second novel? In alternating chapters that weave between the past (the late 1950s) and the present (1966), we meet a young woman who struggles to define herself as she deals with a difficult, abusive mother, longs for the best friend from whom she has been separated, endures juvenile detention, furtively participates in the underground gay scene in Greenwich Village, and eventually becomes a CIA operative in Argentina at the height of the Cold War. In Buenos Aires, the solitary Vera proves to be a natural at the spy game as she sets out to infiltrate a group of student activists, but during a military coup, she finds herself trapped and must rely on her wits and guts to stay safe. In these suspenseful sections, Knecht shines in capturing the tense mood and fear of a city on edge as civilians hunker down and those targeted by the junta must hide. Yet even though Vera narrates this story, her flat, detached tone leaves the reader a bit disconnected. Who is Vera Kelly? At the end of the book, she remains a cipher to everyone but herself.

Verdict More a literary coming-of-age tale than a full-blown espionage thriller, this will attract readers who appreciate good writing and a fascinating, if unknowable, lead character.—Wilda Williams, Library Journal

Osborne, Lawrence. Only To Sleep: A Philip Marlowe Novel. Hogarth: Crown. Jul. 2018. 288p. ISBN 9781524759612. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781524759636. F

As Osborne’s (Beautiful Animals) latest novel begins, we meet a retired Philip Marlowe living in Baja California in 1988. He is mostly alone, with his memories, a bottle, and a small dog to keep him company. He surprises himself by becoming interested when two men from an insurance company approach him with an offer: a shady real estate developer from San Diego has drowned farther down the coast, and they’d like him to double check the conclusions of the Mexican authorities. Marlowe travels north across the border and meets the widow, a world-weary femme fatale. Then he makes his way south, encountering various unsavory sorts, from dubious expats to jaded local fixers. He begins to unravel the mystery, finding his skills are still sharp but occasionally overwhelmed by the past. Even an attempt on his life prompts as much nostalgia as it does wariness.

Verdict Fans of the Raymond Chandler originals as well as the Robert B. Parker and Benjamin Black successors (Poodle Springs and Black-Eyed Blonde, respectively) will find much to like here. Writing about a character as far from the present as he is past his prime provides a fresh perspective on one of the classic hard-boiled detectives.—Dan Forrest, Western Kentucky Univ. Libs., Bowling Green

Straley, John. Baby’s First Felony. Soho Crime. Jul. 2018. 272p. ISBN 9781616958787. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781616958794. MYS

Framed as a long testimonial to a panel of judges during sentencing, Cecil Younger, now a criminal defense investigator in Sitka, AK, shares the tale of how an evidence run for a regular client led him to plead his case before the court. With this first new Cecil Younger work in 17 years, Straley (Cold Water Burning) does an excellent job quickly bringing readers up to speed with Cecil’s life—his family, colleagues, and clientele. The situation Cecil finds himself in is bleak, but a certain gallows humor is infused throughout, with many references to “Baby’s First Felony,” a guide he and his boss created for their clients (sample entry: “When talking on the jail phone, Pig Latin is not an unbreakable code”). The full text of the guide is included at the conclusion of the novel, and it is hilarious. The testimonial aspect of the account is somewhat distracting, as the story would have worked as well as a straightforward narrative, but the setting and characters, particularly Cecil himself, more than make up for any awkwardness with the story’s structure.

Verdict For fans of the Younger series, this is a treat. Readers of Alaska mysteries by Stan Jones and Dana Stabenow would also enjoy this work. [See Prepub Alert, 1/8/18.]—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

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