Beautifully written, both sharp and bighearted, funny and true.

THE BLACKMAILER'S GUIDE TO LOVE

A juicy roman à clef sympathetically imagines two young women on opposite sides of an extramarital affair.

"It is 1978 and Mel is twenty-five years old"—and like her creator did at that time, she works at a magazine which seems to be Esquire for a jerk who seems to be Gordon Lish, who recklessly edits the stories of a man who seems to be Raymond Carver. Also like Thurm, Mel is about to have her own first story published in the New Yorker at the age of 25, and she will go on to write "stories mostly in the present tense, mostly about the infinite ways, large and small, in which her characters manage to disappoint one another"—a perfect description of the selection of Thurm's stories written between 1979 and 2021 and just published as Pleasure Palace. And after she endures the events that begin on April 14, 1980, when she finds an angry note from another woman in her husband's backpack, Mel knows that "she will, the instant she’s good and ready, write the only [novel] she’s certain she is capable of writing...she’s already confident of the title: The Blackmailer’s Guide to Love." It turned out to be Thurm's ninth novel, actually, and in addition to evoking the experience of the betrayed young writer, it also fully imagines that of her nemesis. The plight of Julia Myerson unfolds in chapters that alternate with Mel's. Abused as a child, divorced from an awful man, unable to make progress on her dissertation, Julia is cobbling together a living as a dog walker and a caregiver to an elderly couple. After her longtime therapist commits suicide by jumping off a bridge, she becomes the patient of Charlie Fleischer, a caring psychologist with a sweet face, a warm smile—and a wedding ring. "She’s not stupid: she’s fully aware that falling for your therapist is a 'thing,' that it’s something that happens all the time, every day of the week. But that doesn’t render what she feels for Charlie any less meaningful, any less potent, does it?"

Beautifully written, both sharp and bighearted, funny and true.

Pub Date: May 25, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-953002-00-6

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Delphinium

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2021

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2021

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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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