An entertaining satire about a musical genre not typically known for its humor.

READ REVIEW

ADRIANNE GEFFEL

A FICTION

A faux oral history of a sui generis performer in New York’s avant-garde music world.

In books like Positively Fourth Street (2001) and The Ten-Cent Plague (2008), Hajdu explored how countercultural folkies and comic-book artists rattled conformists in the 1950s and '60s. For his first novel, he attempts to do much the same for 1980s experimental music. Adrianne Geffel, we’re told early, is a household name thanks to her passionate and defiant nature, possessed of a prodigious talent and impatience for musical strictures. Plus, a mysterious disappearance established a mystique that got her name-checked by the likes of Cardi B and George Saunders. The oral historian doesn’t have access to Geffel herself, instead piecing her life together through interviews with family members, teachers, critics, and participants in New York’s downtown scene who prized intellectualism and a certain abrasiveness. (Susan Sontag and Twyla Tharp were eager to witness this “doyenne of downtown music.”) Despite (and thanks to) Geffel’s idiosyncrasies, she was accepted into the Juilliard School, caught the ears of highfalutin Village Voice and SoHo Weekly News writers, and seemed destined to rise to the semifame of a Steve Reich or Philip Glass. In truth, though, Geffel is something of a MacGuffin, a way for Hajdu to satirize the kinds of people who can’t appreciate genius when it’s right in front of them or who wish to exploit it: the critics, the Oliver Sacks–like neurologist, the sketchy self-declared manager, the record-label executive. It’s funny stuff, even if the targets are easy, though more of Geffel’s presence would’ve been welcome. Writing fiction whose central character is a cipher presents a challenge to even the most accomplished novelists (see Myla Goldberg’s Feast Your Eyes and Alan Hollinghurst’s The Sparsholt Affair), and Geffel’s own voice would’ve bolstered Hajdu’s mythmaking.

An entertaining satire about a musical genre not typically known for its humor.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-393-63422-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2020

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Like your third serving of a delicious meal—still very good, but not much excitement left.

TROUBLES IN PARADISE

The Steele family’s three-volume St. John adventure comes to a poignant end.

As the author warns in the foreword, if you haven’t read the first two books of this trilogy (Winter in Paradise, 2018; What Happens in Paradise, 2019), don’t start here. If you have, read this one slowly, because at the end we'll be saying goodbye to the series' endearing cast of transplanted Midwesterners, their new friends in the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the many wonderful bars, restaurants, estates, bungalows, beaches, and seafaring vessels they frequent. In truth, you may find a leisurely pace easier to maintain than usual. The confounding mysteries and shocking reversals that drove the first two installments are wrapped up here, but the answers are pretty much as expected, and no new excitement is introduced. Threads that could have added a plot boost—a high-powered New York lawyer hired to deal with the devastation Irene Steele suffers as a result of her dead husband’s criminal activity, the FBI investigation into same, an old diary, an unplanned pregnancy—play out gently, or are dropped, instead of picking up the momentum. Hilderbrand’s choice to tell us in the introductory note about her fictionalization of Hurricane Irma takes away any element of surprise that might have had, and she doesn’t use the disaster for much in the way of plot, anyway. Oh, well. There are still plenty of lemongrass sugar cookies and a gorgonzola Caesar with pork belly and wood-grilled sirloin, served with an expensive bottle of cabernet pulled from the cellar of some annoying rich people, reviving the old joke about wine descriptions one last time: “Notes of fire coral, DEET and the Tide Pod challenge.” Just like everything else in 2020, this is not quite what you had hoped for, but, on the other hand, the comfort of a Hilderbrand novel is never something to sneer at.

Like your third serving of a delicious meal—still very good, but not much excitement left.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-31643-558-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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Slow moving and richly layered.

THE SEARCHER

A retired cop takes one last case in this stand-alone novel from the creator of the Dublin Murder Squad.

Originally from North Carolina, Cal Hooper has spent the last 30 years in Chicago. “A small place. A small town in a small country”: That’s what he’s searching for when he moves to the West of Ireland. His daughter is grown, his wife has left him, so Cal is on his own—until a kid named Trey starts hanging around. Trey’s brother is missing. Everyone believes that Brendan has run off just like his father did, but Trey thinks there’s more to the story than just another young man leaving his family behind in search of money and excitement in the city. Trey wants the police detective who just emigrated from America to find out what’s really happened to Brendan. French is deploying a well-worn trope here—in fact, she’s deploying a few. Cal is a new arrival to an insular community, and he’s about to discover that he didn’t leave crime and violence behind when he left the big city. Cal is a complex enough character, though, and it turns out that the mystery he’s trying to solve is less shocking than what he ultimately discovers. French's latest is neither fast-paced nor action-packed, and it has as much to do with Cal’s inner life as it does with finding Brendan. Much of what mystery readers are looking for in terms of action is squeezed into the last third of the novel, and the morally ambiguous ending may be unsatisfying for some. But French’s fans have surely come to expect imperfect allegiance to genre conventions, and the author does, ultimately, deliver plenty of twists, shocking revelations, and truly chilling moments.

Slow moving and richly layered.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-73-522465-0

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2020

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