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Speak No Evil: A Novel by Uzodinma Iweala, Harper/HarperCollins Publishers, US $26.99, Pp 216, March 2018, ISBN 978-0061284922

Country Dark by Chris Offutt, Grove Press, US $24.00, Pp 240, April 2018, ISBN 978-0802127792

  Lost Books and Old Bones: A Scottish Bookshop Mystery by Paige Shelton, Minotaur Books,   US $25.99, Pp, April 2018, ISBN 978-1250127792

  The Château: A Novel by Paul Goldberg, Picador Books, US $26.00, Pp 384, February 2018,   ISBN 978-1250116093

Niru was raised by two loving and caring Nigerian parents in Washington DC. He is a top student in his prestigious private school and is expected to go to Harvard University in the fall. He has a bright future. Life cannot be more charming and ideal for anybody. But he has a secret he has been hiding from his parents. He is queer and it is an abominable sin to his conservative and religious parents and the society at large. The only person with whom he has shared this secret is Meredith – his best friend – who does not judge him on this. One day, Niru’s father accidentally learns his secret and acts swiftly and brutally. Having her own troubles, Meredith knows she cannot help Niru. But the two friends can struggle to reconcile their desires against the expectations and institutions that define them. But they are facing a future that is more violent and brutal than they can imagine as teenagers. It is only a matter of time that both of them pay a high price for this. Speak No Evil explores what it means to be different in a conservative society and what a queer faces in such a society. This novel is about our power to speak up and how we identify ourselves and how we resist the brutal conservative society. It is an agonizing and heart-rending story in the tradition of Uzodinma Iweala’s debut, Beasts of No Nation. It is a page-turning read about our times and society.

A graduate of Harvard University and the Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons, Uzodinma Iweala is the acclaimed author of Beasts of No Nation, which received the Los Angeles Times Art Seidenbaum Award for First Fiction, the Sue Kaufman Prize for First Fiction from the Academy of Arts and Letters, the New York Public Library Young Lions 2006 Fiction Award, and the 2006 John Llewellyn Rhys Prize. In 2007, Iweala was selected as one of Granta’s Best Young American Novelists. He lives in New York City and Lagos, Nigeria.

*****

Country Dark is set in rural Kentucky from the Korean War years in the 1950s to 1970s. Tucker is a young war veteran who has recently returned from the war in Korea. He is a little lonesome but courageous and brave southerner. War has taught him how to handle his enemies. He starts working for a bootlegger. He soon meets a woman and falls in love. The pair decides to get married and raise a family. The Tuckers are not rich or even middle class but they are not short of love. Tuckers are simple people and their world revolves around their family. Tucker is not hesitant to use violence when his family comes under a threat. Everything changes for the Tuckers all of a sudden. It seems Tucker is in for more and more problems. He faces them courageously. Interestingly, towards the end of the story, America is starting another war. This time it is in Vietnam. Country Dark is a story of people who live off the land in the backwoods Kentucky world of shine-runners and laborers with nuanced social codes. Country Dark is Chris Offutt’s first work of fiction in nearly two decades. He writes so well and knows the people and places he writes about as he himself comes from the backwoods of Kentucky. He has the ability to enter the minds of his characters. Country Dark is a heart-wrenching story of a man who is caught between violence and his love. It is the story of a man who knows how to use violence to protect his love and dignity. This is one of those stay-up-all-night novels we all yearn for.

Chris Offutt is the author of the short-story collections Kentucky Straight and Out of the Woods, the novel The Good Brother, and three memoirs The Same River Twice, No Heroes, and My Father, the Pornographer. His work has appeared in Best American Short Stories and Best American Essays, among many other places. He has written screenplays for WeedsTrue Blood, and Treme, and has received fellowships from the Lannan and Guggenheim foundations. Chris Offutt has been compared to Tobias Wolff, Ernest Hemingway, and Raymond Carver. He’s been awarded the Whiting Writers Award for Fiction/Nonfiction and the American Academy of Arts and Letters Fiction Award, among numerous other honors.

*****

Lost Books and Old Bones is set in Edinburgh. Delaney Nichols moved from Kansas in the United States to Edinburgh in Scotland to start a new life as a bookseller. She is happy with her new life, working at the Cracked Spine in the downtown. The Cracked Spine is filled with curiosities and rare books on every shelf. Delaney Nichols researches the rare tomes and obscure artifacts for both the sellers and buyers. When some of her friends who are medical students come to sell a collection of antique medical books, Delaney Nichols knows if it is a rare and important find. Delaney Nichols’s boss, Edwin MacAlister readily agrees to buy the multivolume set. Soon after this sale, one of Delaney Nichols’s new friends is murdered in the alley behind the Cracked Spine. Delaney Nichols wonders if the murder can be traced to the medical books and the people whose hands they fell into. Delaney Nichols decides to find out the possible links and bring the killers to justice. As her investigation proceeds, Delaney Nichols stumbles on some old scalpels in the bookshop’s warehouse. She learns that they belonged to a long-dead doctor. She believes that the dead doctor’s story might be linked to the recent murder. But, before Delaney Nichols could solve the mystery, she herself ends up as a victim. Lost Books and Old Bones is an astounding and lovely thriller. Delaney Nichols’s role as an amateur sleuth is captivating and mesmerizing. It will leave your mind reeling and heart pounding. It is a twisty story with a lot of twists and turns and suspense. If you like to read crime and mystery novels, you will not leave it before you finish it. It is really an unputdownable novel.

After graduating from the Drake University in Des Moines, Iowa, Paige Shelton moved to Salt Lake City where she thought she’d only stay a few years, but she fell in love with the mountains and a great guy who became her husband. After a couple of decades in Utah, she and her family recently moved to Arizona. Paige is the author of the Scottish Bookshop Mystery series, including The Cracked Spine and Of Books and Bagpipes.

*****

The Château is set in January 2017. It is a bad day for William M. Katzenelenbogen. Until yesterday, Bill was a successful science reporter at The Washington Post. Today, he lost his job. As he is thinking of his future, he learns that an old college friend, Zbignew Wronski, a cosmetic surgeon who was practicing medicine in South Florida has died after falling from the 43rd-floor balcony of a hotel. Bill decides to go to South Florida and investigate the death. But he fears his father — Melsor Yakovlevich Katzenelenbogen — may not be helpful or may even create obstacles in his investigations. His father also lives in South Florida. When Bill reaches South Florida, he learns that his father is trying to be on the condo board at the Château Sedan Neuve, a high-rise in Hollywood, Florida. Most residents at the Château are Russian Jewish immigrants. The current board is staffed by ruthless fraudsters and headed by Greenstein, a Jewish fascist. Melsor wants to win the board election against Greenstein at any cost. But he needs help from his estranged son — the same son who is coming to seek help from his estranged father to investigate the death of his old friend. Paul Goldberg weaves the story around Miami Beach, petty crime, Jewish identity, and life in Trump’s America. The Château is a political mystery which is a biting comment on the Trump-ian era and politics. It is a light, engrossing and entertaining mystery everyone will enjoy.

Paul Goldberg’s debut novel The Yid was published in 2016 to widespread acclaim and named a finalist for both the Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature and the National Jewish Book Award’s Goldberg Prize for Debut Fiction. As a reporter, Goldberg has written two books about the Soviet human rights movement and has co-authored (with Otis Brawley) How We Do Harm, an expose of the U.S. healthcare system. He is the editor and publisher of The Cancer Letter, a publication focused on the business and politics of cancer. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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