Stripped-down language and propulsive storytelling keep these pages turning.

THE BLUE LINE DOWN

A rugged debut novel about a young man fleeing from a violent life.

The Baldwin-Felts Detective Agency was a (real-life) vicious, predatory outfit dedicated to stamping out unions at the barrel of a gun. In this captivating debut novel we meet Jude Washer, a lost 24-year-old West Virginian who joined the group for all the wrong reasons (as if there could be right reasons). The year is 1922. Jude’s father had been a mean drunk and coal miner who pushed Jude’s 10-year-old brother to an early death. He was also a union organizer, and Jude, bent on not just destroying his dad but scorching the very earth he stood on, learned to see red when he saw unions. The problem is, Jude also has a soul, even though he tries to drown it with moonshine from his flask, and the Baldwin-Felts, generally speaking, do not. The book has some wonderfully chilling set pieces, including a horrific raid on a mining camp full of workers who are perfectly willing to shoot back. This is where Harvey Morgan, a new recruit Jude is training, decides he’s had enough, and Jude must decide if he’ll continue down his bloodstained path or look for something resembling atonement. This fork in the road is neither broad nor simple; the author tells her story through small actions and stripped-down language, building momentum one page at a time and foregoing big gestures. Her descriptions of the rugged land of the Blue Ridge Mountains ground the action in detail, carved out word by word. You care for Jude, a decent man doing the wrong thing, and when he flees his murderous colleagues with a badly wounded Harvey, you wants a new life for him, even when you know it won’t be easy and there’s a price to pay for past sins. This is rugged writing with a moral compass and a tarnished hero slowly trying to come clean.

Stripped-down language and propulsive storytelling keep these pages turning.

Pub Date: June 22, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-938235-84-9

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Hub City Press

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 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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For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

THE FOUR WINDS

The miseries of the Depression and Dust Bowl years shape the destiny of a Texas family.

“Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love. There were times in my journey when I felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” We meet Elsa Wolcott in Dalhart, Texas, in 1921, on the eve of her 25th birthday, and wind up with her in California in 1936 in a saga of almost unrelieved woe. Despised by her shallow parents and sisters for being sickly and unattractive—“too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”—Elsa escapes their cruelty when a single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and forced marriage to the son of Italian immigrant farmers. Though she finds some joy working the land, tending the animals, and learning her way around Mama Rose's kitchen, her marriage is never happy, the pleasures of early motherhood are brief, and soon the disastrous droughts of the 1930s drive all the farmers of the area to despair and starvation. Elsa's search for a better life for her children takes them out west to California, where things turn out to be even worse. While she never overcomes her low self-esteem about her looks, Elsa displays an iron core of character and courage as she faces dust storms, floods, hunger riots, homelessness, poverty, the misery of migrant labor, bigotry, union busting, violent goons, and more. The pedantic aims of the novel are hard to ignore as Hannah embodies her history lesson in what feels like a series of sepia-toned postcards depicting melodramatic scenes and clichéd emotions.

For devoted Hannah fans in search of a good cry.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-2501-7860-2

Page Count: 464

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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