Live by Night by
Kirkus Reviews –
The acclaimed mystery writer again tries his hand at historical fiction, combining period detail from the Prohibition era with the depth of character and twists of plot that have won him such a devoted readership. Though this novel serves as a sequel to (2008), it can be read independently of Lehane's previous historical novel and is closer in its page-turning narrative momentum to his more contemporary thrillers such as (2001). Its protagonist is Joe Coughlin, the morally conflicted youngest son of a corrupt Boston police official (oldest brother Danny was protagonist of the previous novel and makes a cameo appearance here). One of the more compelling characters ever created by Lehane, Joe is a bright young man raised in an economically privileged Irish household who turned to crime as a teenager because "it was fun and he was good at it." He's the product of a loveless marriage, for whom "the hole at the center of his house had been a hole at the center of his parents and one day the hole had found the center of Joe." Among the ways he tries to fill that hole is through love and loyalty, both of which put him at odds with the prevailing ethos of the gang bosses among whom he finds himself caught in the crossfire. He ultimately builds a bootlegging empire in Tampa, backed by a vicious gang lord whose rival had tried to kill Joe, and he falls in love with a Cuban woman whose penchant for social justice receives a boost from his illegal profits. ("Good deeds, since the dawn of time, had often followed bad money," writes Lehane.) Neither as epic in scope nor as literarily ambitious as its predecessor, the novel builds to a powerful series of climaxes, following betrayal upon betrayal, which will satisfy Lehane's fans and deserves to extend his readership as well. Power, lust and moral ambiguity combine for an all-American explosion of fictional fireworks.
Low Pressure by
Kirkus Reviews –
A bestseller about an old homicide that once dominated the headlines brings a family back together in Brown's thriller set in Texas, Atlanta and New York. Bellamy Lyston Price returns to Austin to see her dying father and comfort her stepmother, Olivia, in the wake of a media circus brought on by Bellamy's novel, . The book fictionalizes the murder of Bellamy's rich, spoiled and beautiful older sister, Susan, who was strangled with a pair of her own panties on a company picnic nearly two decades before. Bellamy wrote the book to exorcise demons that had been tormenting her since she attended the picnic as a child, hoping that it would stir forgotten details of the day her sister was killed. Instead, the book, which shoots to the top of the bestseller list and attracts the attention of a muckraking reporter, brings the real-life cast involved in the homicide and its investigation back together, and Bellamy, along with Dent Carter, her sister's former boyfriend, are thrown together to find the answers. Along the way, they meet some pretty nasty characters, including the deranged brother of the man who was convicted of killing Susan, a cop whose investigation had more holes than a sieve and a soulless former prosecutor. The novel is fast moving and entertaining, although the occasional foray into soft porn may distract some readers, but there are a few flaws. Brown's biggest sin is that she makes her bad guys evil all the way through, without any redemption, and that includes much of the Austin Police Department, which she paints as corrupt and inept at best. The unrelenting nastiness takes her characters a little too far over the top to be believable, but she ultimately redeems herself and the book because, unlike many writers of popular thrillers, Brown skillfully combines strong characterization with plots that keep the reader guessing all the way. A good old-fashioned thriller and a winner, even though the bad guys are sometimes just a little too bad for plausibility.
Kirkus Reviews –
A wildly ambitious jigsaw puzzle of a novel, one that shuffles pieces of chronology, identity, ethnicity and tone, undermining cohesion and narrative momentum as it attempts to encompass a London neighborhood that is both fixed and fluid. Many of Smith's strengths as a writer are journalistic--a keen eye for significant detail, ear for speech inflections, appreciation for cultural signifiers and distinctions--as she demonstrated in her previous collection (, 2009). Yet, she first earned renown as a novelist with her breakthrough debut ( , 2000), and her fourth novel (first in six years) finds her challenging herself and the reader like never before. The title refers to "North West London, a dinky part of it you've never heard of called Willesden, and...you'd be wrong to dismiss it actually because actually it's very interesting, very ‘diverse.' Lord, what a word." What initially seems to be a comedy of manners, involving two women who have been lifelong friends but now feel a distance in the disparity of their social standing (the one raised poorer by a Caribbean mother has done far better than the middle-class Caucasian), ultimately turns darker with abortion, murder, drug addiction and the possibility of a suicide. Much of the drama pivots on chance encounters (or fate?), making the plot difficult to summarize and even a protagonist hard to pinpoint. Each of the book's parts also has a very different structure, ranging from very short chapters to an extended narrative interlude to numbered sections that might be as short as a paragraph or a page. The pivotal figure in the novel goes by two different names and has no fixed identity (other than her professional achievement as a barrister), and she doesn't begin to tell the back story that dominates the novel's second half until the first half concludes (it highlights different characters). "At some point we became aware of being ‘modern,' of changing fast," interjects the author, who has written a novel so modern that nothing flows or fits together in the conventional sense, but whose voice remains so engaging and insights so incisive that fans will persevere to make of it what they will. Smith takes big risks here, but some might need to read this twice before all the pieces fit together, and more conventionally minded readers might abandon it in frustration.