…Colm Toibin's high-wire act of an eighth novel…is written without a single physical description of its characters or adverbial signpost to guide our interpretation of their speech. The emotional distance between protagonist and reader is so great that at times the title character seems almost spectral. Yet it is precisely Toibin's radical restraint that elevates what might have been a familiar tale of grief and survival into a realm of heightened inquiry. The result is a luminous, elliptical novel in which everyday life manages, in moments, to approach the mystical.
In a complete change of pace from his dog-centric The Art of Racing in the Rain, Stein transports the reader to Riddell House, a 100-year-old mansion made entirely of wood overlooking Puget Sound. Jones Riddell and his 14-year-old son, Trevor, move there following the failure of Jones’s business and his ensuing separation from Trevor’s mother. With its single setting and small cast of characters (ghosts not included), the story’s feeling of claustrophobia adds to the tension. Stein dramatizes the various tensions between his characters well, although narrator Trevor comes off as a tad precocious for 14. The history of the Riddell family fails to shock after a while, even as events in the present lead to the tragic denouement.
Sent down from Scotland Yard to Camden CID, Detective Superintendent Duncan Kincaid (No Mark upon Her, 2012, etc.) must deal with a bombing that disrupts a musical event in London's storied St. Pancras station.
Anti-development activist … intend only to create a scene by tossing a smoke bomb into the St. Pancras International festivities… the smoke bomb morphs into a white phosphorous grenade—"an incendiary device, not an explosive"… . The surviving … think the dead man must be Ryan Marsh, the mysterious fellow traveler who'd agreed to throw the smoke bomb. But further evidence dug up by Kincaid's new team … suggests that Marsh is still alive and that the victim must be someone else. As Kincaid presses forward, his wife, DI Gemma James, labors to build a case against electronics shop clerk Dillon Underwood for kidnapping, raping and murdering 12-year-old Mercy Johnson. This second case, however, is less absorbing than the dilemma the Kincaid-James children are having over what to do with the cat and four newborn kittens they've found starving and freezing in a locked shed. The midgrade mystery is enriched by a wealth of detail about St. Pancras' history and architecture that would do Margaret Truman proud.