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Category Archive for '0-2018 Reviews'

On the night before an auction of world-class paintings, thirty-something Matt Santos gets permission to spend the night at the auction house “saying goodbye” to “Budapest Street Scene,” painted in 1925 by Hungarian artist Ervin Kalman. Although Matt is considered the owner of the painting, he has, in fact, just recently learned about his connection to the painting as part of the on-going repatriation efforts made for paintings stolen by the Nazis. Author Mark Sarvas involves the reader from the outset of Memento Park as Matt spends a long night delving into memories going back three generations, considering whether they reflect truth or merely his interpretation of it based on his own experience. At the same time he also reflects on his present life in Los Angeles, where he has been working as a “reliable, drama-free,” B-list actor and living with his model fiancée, who spends her free time working on social causes. Ultimately, Matt relives his very recent trip to Budapest, describing what he has learned about the artist, and exploring his own Jewish roots for the first time. Staring at the painting in the auction house, he admits, “I find myself wondering yet again how I could have failed for so long to see this painting for what it is, a rotted memory, an epitaph to everything I thought I knew.” For the reader, it is equally an epitaph on the self-centered, disconnected life Matt Santos has been living to date. As he shares his life and thoughts with the reader, the novel develops into a complex personal story, at the same time that it is also a story filled with mysteries.

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Alan Parks lived for years in Glasgow, Scotland, the place where he has set his debut novel – and the same place where revered author William McIlvanney set his three famed Laidlaw novels between the mid-1970s and the early 1990s. McIlvanney, credited as the founder of “Tartan noir,” casts a wide shadow with his Scottish writing, not only as a novelist, but also as a poet, a writer of literary fiction, a journalist, and a writer of screenplays, and recent publishers and critics have drawn comparisons between McIlvanney and Parks, whose style, when examined, is quite different in approach. It is 1973, and Det. Harry McCoy, just thirty, has been summoned to Barlinnie Prison, a Victorian building which houses many more prisoners than it was ever built for. “No wonder the whole prison stank. The smell of overflowing slop buckets and stale sweat was so thick it caught in the back of your throat as soon as the big doors opened; stuck to your clothes when you left.” He is meeting Howie Nairn, a convict confined to the Special Unit who wants to tell him that a girl named Lorna will be murdered the next day. All he knows about her is that she works in a “posh restaurant,” possibly Malmaison, and “someone’s gonnae do her tomorrow.” He doesn’t know her last name, but he feels that if he can do a favor for McCoy that his own position in jail might improve. What follows is an examination of the depths of Glasgow during the 1970s, when the city was dying and its poor were often desperate.

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Daniele Mallarico, in his seventies, is on his way from Milan to Naples, where he has agreed care for his four-year-old grandson Mario for three days so that his daughter and son-in-law can attend a professional mathematics conference. Daniele, already late with the illustrations he has agreed to supply for a new edition of Henry James’s “The Jolly Corner,” has been ill, and he and his daughter have not been close, even during and after his recent surgery. He has not seen his only grandchild for two years, but the house where he will be staying is the one in which he grew up – and where has left ghosts – part of an elegant, centuries-old building overlooking the busy Piazza Garibaldi in Naples. Mallarico’s arrival in Naples begins author Domenico Starnone’s novel and is quite different from what one would expect from the above summary, the many blurbs on-line and printed on the book’s back cover, and the novel’s obviously “cute” cover illustration. For unknown reasons, the chosen cover shows ghostly images of a curious school-age girl exploring a modern, painted bureau, neither of which plays any role in this important literary novel. This novel is serious, not cute, despite its innate charm. Here the author uses irony and dark humor for his primary dramatic effects, contrasting the age and thinking of the elderly grandfather and his precocious grandson as he raises questions about how we become who we are, and what, if anything we can do about it.

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In this fascinating, involving, often hypnotizing novel, Spanish author Antonio Munoz Molina creates a compelling story from several points of view and several different time periods, revolving around the life of James Earl Ray and his eventual murder of Martin Luther King in Memphis on April 4, 1968. Munoz Molina gives Ray’s story a different slant from purely journalistic accounts, concentrating on his life, his past, and his thoughts, and culminating in his two escapes – the first time in 1967, a year before the assassination, when he escapes from a Missouri prison and moves throughout the US and Canada for months, eventually living in Mexico. Leaving Mexico in November, 1967, he returns to the US, supports the Presidential campaign of George Wallace, has some facial reconstruction surgery, and considers emigrating to Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), then under the rule of a white minority. Eventually, he gravitates to Memphis, where he commits the murder of Dr. King and escapes, first to Canada, then to London, Lisbon, and back to London, where he is apprehended. Though Munoz Molina often details the thoughts of James Earl Ray, he uses an unusual third person point of view, combining his journalistic skills regarding events and places with the fictionalized inner personality and emotions of Ray as he lives and travels, providing a kind of literary energy which goes beyond the limits of narrative reporting.

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In this third novel in the new Achille Lefebvre series, set in the waning days of nineteenth century France, author Gary Inbinder ties up some loose ends from the two previous novels in the series – opening with the execution of Laurent Moreau, who had committed two murders and had conspired in a bomb plot that would have killed or maimed dozens. Half a page later, the execution is over and the Chief of the Paris Detective Police is relaxing in his office, his final act as chief, over. He has been joined by young Achille Lefebvre, the man who will be his replacement. A family man who does not believe that capital punishment has a deterrent effect on crime and constitutes instead “little more than an act of revenge,” Lefebvre has heard the rumors that some of Moreau’s cronies have sworn revenge on him. The atmosphere of this period is promoted through Lefebvre’s meetings at famous places – the ancient royal chapel of Sainte Chapelle; Le Chabanais, “The most famous and fashionable brothel in Paris; the studio of Toulouse Lautrec; an attempt at flight near the Eiffel Tower; and the riverside where Det. Javert had his final confrontation with Jean Valjean. Though the novel is not without some structural difficulties, lovers of the period will find plenty here to keep them involved and entertained.

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