February 1, 2016 Booklist 29 www.booklistonline.com
her quaint Berkshire hometown of Beauville.
It starts with an an obnoxious tourist whom
Pru observes at a restaurant with his girlfriend; later she finds his body in a condo.
Maybe weirder is the fact that the girlfriend
needs Pru’s help with her dog, a persnickety
spaniel. And let’s not forget that rabbit, a
wild bunny named Henry, who is living with
an 84-year-old woman. Oh, and there’s a
mobster, too, whose presence somehow forces Pru to deal with some secrets of her own
about her hasty exit from New York. Usually,
Pru can sort out her various entanglements
by hearing what the pets have to say, but this
time neither the rabbit nor the spaniel are
coming through clearly. The plot is nearly
as challenging to follow as the critters, but
once again Simon’s wacky humor—darkish
but surely not black—provides more than
enough entertainment. —Amy Alessio
By Alex Berenson.
Feb. 2016. 400p. Putnam, $27.95 (9780399176142).
After Berenson’s Twelve Days (2015), most
readers probably felt that they’d reached the
boffo conclusion to a two-part story arc (
following The Counterfeit Agent, 2014) within
the larger John Wells series. Wrong. We learn
here that there are unresolved issues regarding American billionaire Aaron Duberman,
who very nearly tricked the U.S. into starting a war with Iran—a war narrowly averted
by the efforts of maverick agent Wells, who
wants Duberman dead but wants the U.S.
president to step up and get it done. When
that doesn’t happen, Wells goes to work.
So begins what should be a simple snatch,
grab, and shoot but that quickly becomes
something else entirely, thanks to Duberman
being ensconced in a nearly impenetrable
Hong Kong mansion and also to the fact that
Russian and Chinese interests have thrown
two very large spanners into the works. As
always, Berenson brilliantly blends global
politics into an adrenaline-pulsing spy novel.
But, most of all, there is Wells, a stone-cold
killer who nevertheless does what we all wish
we could do: stand up to the powerful and
make them pay. A fantasy? Probably, but it
sure feels good. —Bill Ott
As Close to Us as Breathing.
By Elizabeth Poliner.
Mar. 2016. 368p. Little, Brown, $27 (9780316384148).
In 1948, Molly Leibritsky is spending the
summer as she always does, at the family
beach house with her mother, aunts, siblings,
and cousins. It is a time of great freedom for
them all. On the weekdays, the children busy
themselves with ice cream, sailing, and explo-
ration, while the sisters reminisce about their
own childhood days there. Only on the week-
ends, when the husbands arrive for the Friday
night Sabbath meal, do they all have to but-
ton up and buckle down. But when Molly’s
younger brother is killed in an accident, the
carefree days come to an end. The family is
paralyzed by blame and guilt. As the years
go by, each member of the family faces his
own measure of grief and regret, and none is
left untouched by the far-reaching heartbreak
of such a devastating loss. Poliner alternates
between narrators and eras, sometimes rather
abruptly, to weave a story of many genera-
tions of sacrifice, tradition, and hope. The
resulting saga highlights the complexity of
family relationships and the many emotions
of great loss. —Cortney Ophoff
YA: The relationships between Molly and
her cousins and their individual journeys
of self-discovery will resonate with some
By Michelle Hoover.
Mar. 2016. 336p. Black Cat, paper, $16
In a novel that spans decades, Hoover
focuses on the life of a farm family of German heritage shortly after WWI. Even
though Julius Hess acquired his Iowa acreage years earlier, and the younger of his two
sons, Lee, enlisted (after his brother was
badly injured) and fought in France, there
are murmurs of “Kraut” in their community. When the two youngest of the four
Hess daughters—Esther, 16, and Myrle, 14—
disappear, they are presumed to be run-aways, even when Myrle’s favorite dress is
found bloodied and torn, and the possibility
of foul play arises. Five narrators add depth
and texture to the story: Nan, the oldest of
the six Hess children, who’s functioning as
mother; widower Julius, recalling his marriage and emigration from Germany; Lee,
in war-torn France; and Esther and Myrle,
whose stories are revealed only in the later
pages. Hoover (The Quickening, 2010) vividly describes the harsh realities of life on
a farm, on the battlefield, and in a Chicago
sweatshop through the eyes of masterfully
drawn characters. A novel as poignant as it
is clear-eyed. —Michele Leber
Bounty of Vengeance: Ty’s Story.
By Paul Colt.
Feb. 2016. 306p. Five Star, $25.95 (9781432831776).
Book two of the Bounty Series finds former sheriff Ty Ledger teaming up with
bounty hunter Johnny Roth to hunt down
the man who killed Ledger’s wife and their
unborn baby. They track the killer to Lincoln
County, New Mexico, where a bloody war
is about to erupt between cattlemen John
Dolan and John Chisum. These (and other
members of the cast) were real people, and
the Lincoln County War was a real event.
Like the first book in the Bounty Series,
2014’s A Question of Bounty, this one cleverly
and seamlessly mixes fact and fiction, telling
a small, personal story set against a larger
historical backdrop. Ledger and Roth make
a good team, two men who are both very
similar and very different, both driven to risk
their own lives to bring justice (or perhaps
revenge?) to a killer. Great stuff for fans of
traditional westerns. —David Pitt
The House of Dreams.
By Kate Lord Brown.
Mar. 2016. 320p. St. Martin’s/Thomas Dunne, $25.99
At a time when the world was becoming
increasingly nightmarish, something called
the House of Dreams offered artists a refuge.
In the early 1940s, an American journalist
named Varian Fry oversaw a covert operation in
Marseilles to help intellectuals escape France and
the Nazi threat. Brown,
the author of The Perfume
Garden (2015), beautifully
intertwines aspects of Fry’s
real-life story with the fictional tale of an artist he helped, Gabriel
Lambert. Lambert came to the villa outside
Marseilles haunted by a tragedy, which corrodes his thoughts even as he courts the lively
daughter of the neighboring family. Decades
after his escape, Lambert is badgered by a
young journalist with a personal connection
to his story to reveal the truth about his past.
Brown brings a cinematic sensibility to her
writing, making the long-ago exploits of Fry
and his cohorts pulse with life, with an ever-present sense of danger looming overhead.
There is much to admire about this novel
and its strong cast of characters, most of all
its portrayal of the cost—and legacy—of real
courage. —Bridget Thoreson
By Shirley Barrett.
Mar. 2016. 240p. Little, Brown, $25 (9780316261548);
e-book, $13.99 (9780316261524).
Australian screenwriter and director Barrett’s first novel is presented as the memoir of
49-year-old Mary Davidson. The daughter
of a highly respected whaler, Mary writes of
the whaling season of 1908, when she was
19 and in love with a member of her father’s
crew, the enigmatic John Beck, who claims to
be a former Methodist minister. Mary writes
evocatively of whaling as it was practiced a
century ago, giving readers a firsthand look
at the violent and bloody enterprise, which
is helped along by a pod of killer whales
who corral the whales who are the targets
of Mary’s father and his crew. Her mother
dead, Mary, the eldest daughter, is left to
manage the house and her younger siblings,
including her feisty sister, Louisa. Mary is
less successful at managing her heart and her
unconsummated affair with John Beck, who
remains a puzzle. Highly episodic, the novel
as memoir is told with a degree of nostalgia and yearning that are infectious, drawing
readers into the action of this absorbing historical romance. —Michael Cart
YA: Teen fans of both historical fiction
and romance will find much to like in this
vividly realized novel. MC.