Vividly written and deeply affecting.

THE DEATH OF VIVEK OJI

The author of the young adult novel Pet, a finalist for the 2019 National Book Award, offers another exploration of gender identity, this time for adults.

This book’s title leaves no doubt about the fate of its central character. Nor does the first chapter, which is one sentence long: “They burned down the market on the day Vivek Oji died.” Then the story moves into the past to introduce Vivek’s father, Chika, as he is about to meet Kavita, the woman who will become his wife and Vivek’s mother. The next chapter is told from the perspective of Vivek’s cousin, Osita. As the narrative moves around in time and from viewpoint to viewpoint, Emezi offers a richly textured depiction of a middle-class community in Nigeria—one that includes several immigrants, among them Vivek’s Indian mother. In these early chapters, there is no sense of the tragedy that’s coming. The first hint of trouble ahead is when Vivek starts slipping into fugue states. Eventually, Vivek will explain that these were moments when the burden of living an inauthentic life became too much to bear. When Vivek lets his hair grow long and acknowledges his true sexuality, he experiences some relief from this stress, but new problems arise—including an aunt who thinks he’s possessed by demons and boys who throw bottles at him. He is only just beginning to express his true self openly when he dies. Only a handful of chapters—most of them very brief—are told from Vivek’s point of view. There’s something heartbreaking about the fact that his story can only be told by others, especially since some of them never saw him as he wanted to be seen. And Osita—who loved Vivek and knew him better than anyone—cannot say everything he knows. Even so, the novel ends on a note of hope.

Vividly written and deeply affecting.

Pub Date: Aug. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-54160-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2020

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A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

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THE MYSTERY OF MRS. CHRISTIE

In December 1926, mystery writer Agatha Christie really did disappear for 11 days. Was it a hoax? Or did her husband resort to foul play?

When Agatha meets Archie on a dance floor in 1912, the obscure yet handsome pilot quickly sweeps her off her feet with his daring. Archie seems smitten with her. Defying her family’s expectations, Agatha consents to marry Archie rather than her intended, the reliable yet boring Reggie Lucy. Although the war keeps them apart, straining their early marriage, Agatha finds meaningful work as a nurse and dispensary assistant, jobs that teach her a lot about poisons, knowledge that helps shape her early short stories and novels. While Agatha’s career flourishes after the war, Archie suffers setback after setback. Determined to keep her man happy, Agatha finds herself cooking elaborate meals, squelching her natural affections for their daughter (after all, Archie must always feel like the most important person in her life), and downplaying her own troubles, including her grief over her mother's death. Nonetheless, Archie grows increasingly morose. In fact, he is away from home the day Agatha disappears. By the time Detective Chief Constable Kenward arrives, Agatha has already been missing for a day. After discovering—and burning—a mysterious letter from Agatha, Archie is less than eager to help the police. His reluctance and arrogance work against him, and soon the police, the newspapers, the Christies’ staff, and even his daughter’s classmates suspect him of harming his wife. Benedict concocts a worthy mystery of her own, as chapters alternate between Archie’s negotiation of the investigation and Agatha’s recounting of their relationship. She keeps the reader guessing: Which narrator is reliable? Who is the real villain?

A compelling portrait of a marriage gone desperately sour.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-4926-8272-1

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2020

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A SLOW FIRE BURNING

A young man has been stabbed to death on a houseboat...that much is clear.

Hawkins' third novel, after her smash debut with The Girl on the Train (2015) and a weak follow-up with Into the Water (2017), gets off to a confusing start. A series of vignettes introduce numerous characters—Irene, Deidre, Laura, Miriam, Daniel (dead), Carla, Theo, Angela (dead)—all of whom live or lived in a very small geographical area and have overlapping connections and reasons to be furious at each other. We can all agree that the main question is who killed Daniel, the 23-year-old on the houseboat, but it is soon revealed that his estranged mother had died just a few weeks earlier—a drunk who probably fell, but maybe was pushed, down the stairs—and his cousin also fell to his death some years back. Untimely demise runs in the family. The highlight of these goings-on is Laura, a tiny but ferocious young woman who was seen running from Daniel's boat with blood on her mouth and clothes the last night he was alive. Physically and mentally disabled by an accident in her childhood, Laura is so used to being accused and wronged (and actually she is quite the sticky fingers) that she's not surprised when she's hauled in for Daniel's murder, though she's pretty sure she didn't do it. The secondary crimes and subplots include abduction, sexual assault, hit-and-run, petty larceny, plagiarism, bar brawling, breaking and entering, incest, and criminal negligence, and on top of all this there's a novel within a novel that mirrors events recalled in flashback by one of the characters. When Irene reads it, she's infuriated by "all the to-ing and fro-ing, all that jumping around in the timeline....Just start at the beginning, for god's sake. Why couldn't people just tell a story straight any longer, start to finish?" Hmmmmm.

Overkill.

Pub Date: Aug. 31, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1123-0

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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