Star-Studded Fiction from Burnet, Lamb, Le Guin, and Debuter Street | Xpress Reviews

A fast-paced historical crime novel from Booker finalist Burnet; Lamb’s tender, funny, sweet homage to boomers; Le Guin is just as relevant and thought-provoking as ever; Pintoff's high stakes novel will still appeal to thriller fans; Poe’s devoted readers will rejoice in Street's debut literary novel

Week ending October 21, 2016


starred review starBurnet, Graeme Macrae. His Bloody Project: Documents Relating to the Case of Roderick Macrae. Skyhorse. Oct. 2016. 300p. ISBN 9781510719217. $24.99; ebk. ISBN 9781510719224. F

It’s 1869, and a 17-year-old Scottish lad by the name of Roderick Macrae is on trial for a brutal triple homicide.Though by his own confession Roderick declares himself guilty, his legal advocates struggle to understand his mental state at the time of the slaughter. Through various court documents, testimonies of expert witnesses, and philosophical wrangling about what constitutes truth and moral conscience, the story dissects the judicial system as well as marches undaunted toward its jury-perplexing conclusion.

Verdict A finalist for the Man Booker Prize 2016, this uniquely constructed, fast-paced historical crime novel by the author of The Disappearance of Adele Bedeau is clever and gripping, delivering a viable feel for the time and place. Those who enjoy period novels, suspense stories, and thoughtful “pay attention” courtroom dramas will enjoy this work.—Russell Miller, Prescott P.L., AZ


starred review starLamb, Wally. I’ll Take You There. Harper. Nov. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9780062656285. $25.99; ebk. ISBN 9780062656292. F illtakeyouthere102116

Film professor Felix Funicello, a cousin of Mouseketeer Annette, is newly 60 in 2013, amiably divorced from Kat, and a devoted father to funny, profane, brilliant writer Aliza. He runs a Monday night film club for a charming band of eccentrics at the old Garde Theater in New London, CT. One night when he arrives to set up, two ghostly visitors from 1920s Hollywood—director Lois Weber and silent screen star Billie Dove–appear before him. They are joined by a small cast of other specters who take Felix back to his past via old celluloid reels that show his life in his earlier decades. Not only does he watch from the theater seats, but the ghosts show him how to cross over into the films in order to relive his early life and finally make sense of his family’s fractured dynamics.

Verdict Lamb’s tender, funny, sweet homage to boomers could not be timelier. He reprises Felix (first seen as a fifth grader in his 2010 holiday novella, Wishin’ and Hopin’) in this nostalgia-rich journey of family, strong women, and one lovely feminist man.—Beth E. Andersen, Ann Arbor, MI


starred review starLe Guin Ursula K. The Found and the Lost: The Collected Novellas of Ursula K. Le Guin. Saga: S. & S. Oct. 2016. 816p. ISBN 9781481451390. $29.99; ebk. ISBN 9781481451413. FANTASY

Collected here for the first time in one volume are 13 novellas by the award-winning author of such speculative fiction classics as The Left Hand of Darkness and The Wizard of Earthsea. Included in this 800-page tome are selections related to her “Hainish” series (“Forgiveness Day”; “A Man of the People”; “A Woman’s Liberation”; and “Old Music and the Slave Women”) and the “Earthsea” saga (“Dragonfly”; “On the High Marsh”; and “The Finder”), as well as stories that address Native American mythology (“Buffalo Gals, Won’t You Come Out Tonight”) and gender identity (“The Matter of Seggri”). Other tales go outside of the sf/fantasy genre such as “Hernes,” a multigenerational, historical tale set in Oregon and narrated from the viewpoint of various women.

Verdict With this astonishing volume, Le Guin demonstrates that she is just as relevant and thought-provoking as ever. No former knowledge of her works is necessary to delve into this remarkable writing, just an open mind with a desire to be filled. Pair this with the reissued The Unreal and the Real: The Selected Short Stories of Ursula K. Le Guin, and the author’s many admirers will be in heaven. [See “Editors’ Fall Picks,” LJ 9/1/16, p. 28.]—Lucy Roehrig, Ann Arbor Dist. Lib., MI


Pintoff, Stefanie. City on Edge. Bantam. Nov. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9780425284452. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780425284469. F

In her second outing (after Hostage Taker), Special Agent Eve Rossi is once again up against impossible odds. On the night before the Thanksgiving Day Parade in New York City, police commissioner Logan Donovan is shot at a balloon-filling event on the Upper West Side. When the scene calms down, it is discovered that Donovan’s daughter has been kidnapped and the abductor has nearly unattainable demands. Eve and her unconventional Vidocq Team (former convicts, mostly) enter a race against the clock to find Allie and stop what could be a catastrophic attack on the parade itself. Though this thriller starts off with a literal bang, the action slows down as Pintoff reintroduces her series characters, using classified files and news reports to flesh out their backstories. And even when the action begins to ramp up again, the choppy chapters, each from a different protagonist’s viewpoint, make for an uneven pace.

Verdict Despite the flaws, the novel’s tight time frame and high stakes will still appeal to thriller fans. [See Prepub Alert, 5/16/16.]—Jane Jorgenson, Madison P.L., WI


starred review starStreet, Karen Lee. Edgar Allan Poe and the London Monster. Pegasus Crime. Oct. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781681772202. $25.95; ebk. ISBN 9781681772745. F

edgarallanpoe102116[DEBUT] Street’s first novel drops readers smack into an Edgar Allan Poe story, complete with all the deception, obsession, and madness of the master himself. Poe arrives in London from Philadelphia in 1840 to meet C. Auguste Dupin, his friend and an accomplished detective. The writer is seeking Dupin’s help in solving the mystery of a box of letters he inherited, letters supposedly written by his grandparents Elizabeth and Henry Arnold. True, the Arnolds were impecunious actors, but the letters imply that they performed the very unsavory role of the notorious London Monster, an actual criminal who slashed young women of quality between 1788 and 1790. Poe hopes he and Dupin will prove the letters false, but soon he is followed and tormented by someone who seems to know about his grandparents and their criminal acts. Will Poe and Dupin discover the truth before Poe loses his life—or his sanity?

Verdict Poe’s devoted readers will rejoice in this debut literary novel, a skillful melding of historical detail and fiction that is also rife with Poe-like style, imagery, and plot elements. Mavens of the macabre will relish this and hunger for a sequel.—Barbara Clark-Greene, Westerly, RI


Tantimedh, Adi. Her Nightly Embrace. Atria. Nov. 2016. 320p. ISBN 9781501130571. $26; ebk. ISBN 9781501130595. F

This proposed trilogy featuring Ravi Singh, a high school teacher–turned–private investigator, is a fast-paced, darkly humorous series of increasingly preposterous cases—no small feat considering the first one involves a potential candidate for prime minister who believes his late fiancée is making love to him every night. The series is also being adapted into a BBC television production and a series of podcasts. Graphic novelist and screenwriter Tantimedh (La Muse) does an excellent job of shaping Ravi into a caustic yet empathetic observer of the chaos around him, and even the conceit that he sees Hindu gods—a potentially groan-inducing subplot—is handled organically and mostly subtly. Ravi’s colleagues at the PI firm Golden Sentinels are somewhat formulaic, but if you’re a fan of the formula there is a lot to enjoy here, particularly Ken and Clive, ex-cops who have become hired muscle. Overall, a very entertaining start to an interesting multimedia experiment.

Verdict For fans of bleak humor and unusual set pieces in their mysteries.—Julie Elliott, Indiana Univ. Lib., South Bend

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