A wily spy novel with a human touch.


An Irish double agent and his German handler form an unlikely bond in 1940s Berlin.

When ex–Irish resistance fighter Proinnsias “Frank” Pike is liberated from a Spanish prison in 1940 by German intelligence operative Adrian de Groot, aka Johann Grotius, the ill-matched duo are launched on a daring series of exploits inside Nazi Germany. Debut novelist Mann seamlessly intertwines two narratives—de Groot’s candid journal and a third-person account of Pike’s escapades entitled “Finn McCool in the Bowels of Teutonia” (his alter ego is a well-known hunter/warrior figure in Irish mythology)—to describe some of the same events from their wildly differing perspectives. De Groot, a philologist and translator and the titular torqued man (another sly nod to Irish myth), recruits Pike to engage in missions intended to turn Ireland’s ancient antipathy to England into full-fledged support for Hitler’s regime, but the Germans are a step behind the English, who intend to take advantage of Pike’s presence in the heart of the Reich’s war machine to thwart these schemes and serve their own ends. Once Pike, whose “man of action” bravado and “gregarious and libidinous personality” contrast sharply with de Groot’s intellectual diffidence, is transported to the heart of Berlin, he embarks on a devilishly clever “assassination-and-mayhem campaign” designed to decimate the upper ranks of the German medical profession, with the goal of eventually eliminating Hitler himself. More suited to scholarship than spycraft, de Groot finds that his attempts to bring order to the “perpetual misadventure that life with Pike would come to entail” are complicated by an intense personal affection for his charge. Mann’s brisk and well-constructed plot is enhanced by equally impressive prose that succeeds in making the inner lives of his principal characters as engaging as Pike’s often hair-raising (if occasionally ill-conceived) deeds.

A wily spy novel with a human touch.

Pub Date: Jan. 11, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-06-307-210-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 13, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2021

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A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

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An unhappy woman who tries to commit suicide finds herself in a mysterious library that allows her to explore new lives.

How far would you go to address every regret you ever had? That’s the question at the heart of Haig’s latest novel, which imagines the plane between life and death as a vast library filled with books detailing every existence a person could have. Thrust into this mysterious way station is Nora Seed, a depressed and desperate woman estranged from her family and friends. Nora has just lost her job, and her cat is dead. Believing she has no reason to go on, she writes a farewell note and takes an overdose of antidepressants. But instead of waking up in heaven, hell, or eternal nothingness, she finds herself in a library filled with books that offer her a chance to experience an infinite number of new lives. Guided by Mrs. Elm, her former school librarian, she can pull a book from the shelf and enter a new existence—as a country pub owner with her ex-boyfriend, as a researcher on an Arctic island, as a rock star singing in stadiums full of screaming fans. But how will she know which life will make her happy? This book isn't heavy on hows; you won’t need an advanced degree in quantum physics or string theory to follow its simple yet fantastical logic. Predicting the path Nora will ultimately choose isn’t difficult, either. Haig treats the subject of suicide with a light touch, and the book’s playful tone will be welcome to readers who like their fantasies sweet if a little too forgettable.

A whimsical fantasy about learning what’s important in life.

Pub Date: Sept. 29, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-52-555947-4

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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A blackhearted but wayward yarn.


A peasant boy gets an introduction to civilization, such as it is.

Moshfegh’s gloomy fifth novel is set in the medieval village of Lapvona, ruled by Villiam, who’s paranoid and cruel when he’s not inept. (For instance, he sends murderous bandits into town if he hears of dissent among the farmers.) Marek, a 13-year-old boy, is becoming increasingly curious about his brutish provenance. He questions whether his mother indeed died in childbirth, as his father, Jude, insists. (The truth is more complicated, of course.) He struggles to reconcile the disease and death he witnesses with the stories of a forgiving God he was raised with. His sole source of comfort is Ina, the village wet nurse. During the course of the year tracked by the novel, Marek finds his way to Villiam, who fills his time with farcical and occasionally grotesque behavior. Villiam’s right-hand man, the village priest, is comically ignorant about Scripture, and Villiam compels Marek and a woman assistant into some scatological antics. The fact that another assistant is named Clod gives a sense of the intellectual atmosphere. Which is to say that the novel is constructed from familiar Moshfegh-ian stuff: dissolute characters, a willful rejection of social norms, the occasional gross-out. At her best, she’s worked that material into stark, brilliant character studies (Eileen, 2015) or contemporary satires (My Year of Rest and Relaxation, 2018). Here, though, the tone feels stiff and the story meanders. The Middle Ages provide a promising setting for her—she describes a social milieu that’s only clumsily established hierarchies, religion, and an economy, and she wants us to question whether we’ve evolved much beyond it. But the assortment of dim characters and perverse delusions does little more than repetitively expose the brutality of (as Villiam puts it) “this stupid life.”

A blackhearted but wayward yarn.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-30026-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Penguin Press

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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