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The Phantom of Fifth Avenue: The Mysterious Life and Scandalous Death of Heiress Huguette Clark

Meryl Gordon. Grand Central, $28 (400p) ISBN 978-1-4555-1263-8

Bestselling author Gordon (Mrs. Astor Regrets) takes on another heiress, the notorious recluse Huguette Clark, as the subject of her latest investigation into the world of New York's wealthiest. Clark was the youngest daughter of Montana robber baron William Andrews Clark, who made his fortune in copper and drew decades of media frenzy for his cash-fueled Senatorial races, fondness for fine art, and gaudy Fifth Avenue mansion. Meticulously researched, Gordon's account catalogues every juicy detail and eccentricity amassed over a century: Clark's years at the elite Spence School, under the Miss Spence; her painting lessons and prolonged flirtation with the famed Dutch portrait painter Tade Styke; her refusal, in the wake of her mother's death, to step outside of her Fifth Avenue apartments for just shy of two decades. Most headline-worthy of all were Clark's final years, spent (despite her net worth and supposed good health), in shabby Beth Israel Hospital quarters, avoiding her descendants and bestowing millions on her nurses, doctors, lawyer and accountant. Unsurprisingly, a massive money-grab unfolded in the wake of her death. But did Clark have diagnosable neuroses? Did she sit in her lonely rooms daydreaming about sex, family, fresh air, and every other characteristic of the normal life she denied herself? Readers who salivated over headlines like "Poor Little Rich Girl's Sad Life" (Courier-Mail) and "America's Antisocial Socialite" (Scottish Express) will be left wanting more. Yet this very unwillingness to speculate—Gordon's strict adherence to primary documents and witness interviews—makes for a rigorous, authoritative account of a 20th century enigma. (June)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Osogbo: Speaking to the Spirits of Misfortune

Ocha'ni Lele. Inner Traditions/Destiny, $16.95 trade paper (240p) ISBN 978-1-62055-098-4

Packed with personal stories and traditional tales, the latest offering on practices of the Afro-Caribbean Lucumi religion by accomplished author Lele (Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santeria) examines the role of osogbo, or misfortune, in human lives. Students of Yoruba culture, Lucumi cosmology, and Santerian practices will find a rich selection of over forty sacred pataki stories that illustrate the power of misfortune to not only break things down, but also build things back up again, perhaps better than before. Lele also studies this process of spiritual evolution in his own life, as he faces the Stage IV cancer diagnosis of his beloved goddaughter Rebecca. Lele doesn't leave the stories to speak for themselves, but gathers them together under the Lucumi ontology, which he spells out with precision and care. Newcomers to the Lucumi vocabulary may find the material challenging at times—Lele elaborates on 256 spirits in the odu of the diloggun (divination patterns), for instance—but he always provides explanations and definitions, including an excellent glossary, that make the work accessible to all. (May )

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Convictions: How I Learned What Matters Most

Marcus J. Borg. HarperOne, $25.99 (256p) ISBN 978-0-06-226997-3

Because "context matters," religion scholar Borg (The Heart of Christianity) reviews the itinerary of his spiritual journey toward his life's convictions. An expert on the historical Jesus who has written 14 books (including a fine novel), Borg bases his biblical exegeses in scripture, reason and tradition; another three-legged stool—memories, conversations, and convictions—shapes this forthright book. He explores how he came to his opinions, from boy to man to elder of 70, beginning with his birth in Minnesota to conservative, Republican, Lutheran parents in a mixed marriage (his mother was descended from Norwegians; his father, Swedes). He became a scholar, a liberal Episcopalian in Oregon, the husband of a priest. He intertwines his considerable knowledge of the Bible and of Christianity with exploration of his life at lectern and in pulpit. He writes honestly and clearly, defining as he goes, always educating. He does not shy from laying out controversies among contemporary Christians, especially progressives v. conservatives, and he analyzes Jesus, the Bible, and the Cross. He closes with wonder: "Imagine that Christianity is about loving God." (May)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Command Authority

Tom Clancy with Mark Greaney. Putnam, $29.95 (752p) ISBN 978-0-399-16047-9

In the entertaining final Jack Ryan novel from bestseller Clancy (1947–2013), Russian president Valeri Volodin has imperialistic ambitions similar to those of a certain real-life Russian president. Failure to annex Estonia thanks to unexpected NATO resistance only redirects Russian attention to the Crimea and other lands currently outside NATO's formal umbrella. Meanwhile, President Ryan's son, Jack Ryan Jr., investigates what appears to be an unrelated case involving Russian gangsters exploiting a corrupt system to steal a vast fortune. In fact, the opportunistic appropriation links the ambitions of a once-obscure KGB officer decades ago to the events unfolding in the Crimean region and to the early career of President Ryan himself. Although the military conflict is an important part of the plot, this is a classic spy novel. Fans of extended combat sequences should look elsewhere, as the focus is on high stakes espionage and assassinations carried out in rented rooms and dark alleys, not well-lit battlefields. (Dec.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Death of a Policeman

M.C. Beaton. Grand Central, $25 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4555-0473-2

Sgt. Hamish Macbeth has had a long run in the Scottish Highlands—perhaps too long. In his 30th outing (after 2013's Death of Yesterday), Detective Chief Inspector Blair, his boss, sends Cyril Sessions, a corrupt cop, to find evidence that Hamish is sufficiently derelict in his duties to justify firing him. When Cyril is murdered, Hamish's woes multiply. His only goal is to keep his job and avoid promotion so he won't be moved from his beloved village of Lochdubh. Hamish has always been willing to bend a rule here and there, but now he seems as corrupt as his bosses. As the bodies pile up, he withholds evidence, breaks into every house and business belonging to someone he suspects, and blackmails his bosses. Bestseller Beaton originally created him as a lovable rogue, but even Hamish realizes how dirty he's become: "It's as if I've become one of them, he thought." Indeed. Agent: Barbara Lowenstein, Lowenstein Associates. (Feb.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Ten for Dying: A John, the Lord Chamberlain Mystery

Mary Reed and Eric Mayer. Poisoned Pen, $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4642-0227-8

Reed and Mayer mix things up a bit with their 10th whodunit set in Constantinople during the reign of Emperor Justinian (after 2012's Nine for the Devil). In the wake of the murder of the emperor's wife, Theodora, which John solved in the last book, the chamberlain has been dismissed from his position, and decides to start a new life in Greece. That decision leaves his friend Felix, a captain of the place guard, to solve a series of crimes. Bizarre circumstances surround the theft of a relic kept in the Church of the Holy Apostles: the thief left behind 30 frogs, sacred to an Egyptian god, and a scarab beetle on top of Theodora's sarcophagus. The case is complicated by witness reports of demons and Felix's discovery of a corpse, under potentially compromising circumstances. The authors offer a lighter tone to go along with their new lead sleuth, although it's unclear who will be featured in the next installment. (Mar.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Waiting for the Man

Arjun Basu. ECW Press (Legato Publishers Group, U.S. dist.; Canadian Manda Group/Jaguar, Canadian dist.), $24.95 (304p) ISBN 978-1-77041-177-7

Joe, a lauded copywriter for a prestigious Manhattan firm, is confronted by the grim truth that material success is no guarantor of personal happiness. Jaded, deeply unhappy with his shallow life, Joe begins to dream of a mysterious figure, the Man. On the advice of the Man, Joe abandons his career in search of a life poorer but with meaning. Thanks to a reporter named Dan, Joe's personal quest will become the focus of a growing media frenzy, unasked for fame yet another distraction on Joe's long road west towards a quiet ranch and a deeper, truer connection to the world. Abandoning riches for road trips and rustic contemplation in a quest for insight is a story that has appeared in various forms for millennia; indeed, religions have been founded by people who undertook similar journeys. This version, told in two intertwined time-lines, moves this familiar tale to a modern setting to good effect. Although this is the author's debut novel, his experience at shorter forms (Squishy) shows; fans of his 140-character Twisters on Twitter will be pleased to know that the author's talents are on display in this novel. Agent: Neil J. Salkind, Salkind Literary Agency. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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The Cemetery of Swallows

Mallock, trans. from the French by Steven Rendall. Europa/World Noir (Penguin, dist.), $17 trade paper (272p) ISBN 978-1-60945-186-8

French author Mallock (the pseudonym of Jean-Denis Bruet-Ferreol) makes his U.S. debut with a provocative novel that explores such disparate topics as international criminal law, black magic, and personal loyalty. Supt. Amedee Mallock, of the Parisian police force, travels to the Dominican Republic, in order to extradite a French national, Manuel Gemoni, who recently shot dead elderly Tobias Darbier in a square outside a Dominican cigar factory. Mallock learns that Darbier was "the most hated man on the island," a tyrant who had survived more than 30 assassination attempts in the past seven years. Since Manuel happens to be the brother of Paris police captain Julie Gemoni, who reports to Mallock, the superintendent must be careful to not only do his civic duty but also uncover any clues or mitigating circumstances that "would keep Manuel from being given the maximum sentence." Readers will enjoy the rich colonial history and cross-cultural commentary as the motive for Manuel's execution of Darbier gradually emerges. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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Mr. Loverman

Bernardine Evaristo. Akashic, $15.95 trade paper (300p) ISBN 978-1-61775-272-8

Evaristo's (Blonde Roots) enjoyable new novel follows Barrington Walker, a 74 year-old Antiguan man living in Hackney, London. A husband, father, and grandfather, Barry is a respectable elder with deep pockets and antiquated views of masculinity, but he's also a flamboyant character with deep affections for retro suits, highbrow literature, and his childhood friend and gay lover, Morris. In the twilight of life, Barry is out of patience with his bitter wife, Carmel, and their disintegrated marriage, and he longs to accept Morris's offer to move in together. Barry tells his story in a winning mix of patois and eloquent "speaky-spoky," that is insightful and often hilarious as he confronts his "scaredy-cat" fears and the probable ramifications of finally following his heart. Interspersed chapters from Carmel's point of view highlight her experiences in 10 year intervals, with poetic sentence fragments mixed with longing, self-talk, and prayer; these monologues lend balance to the narrative and trouble the reader's alliance. Barry's story parades a wide range of characters of varying depth and complication, and pivotal conflicts that don't always beget significant consequences. Despite an ending too neatly tied, Evaristo crafts a colorful look at a unique character confronting social normativity with a well-tuned voice and a resonant humanity. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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A Moody Fellow Finds Love and Then Dies

Douglas Watson. Outpost 19 (www.outpost19.com), $16 trade paper (170p) ISBN 978-1-937402-62-4

The mystery of how the main character will die, and with whom he will find love, propels Watson's brisk, clever take on the coming-of-age debut novel. The tale embraces the absurdist, the satirical, and the metafictional, but at its core is a charming story about a boy who "just needed to…start walking on the face of the earth instead of tiptoeing along a few inches above it." The protagonist, Moody Fellow, is unlucky in love and not really "cut out for the world as we know it." At college, Moody meets Amanda, an orphaned girl from "the tundra" who is an actual femme fatale; she is so beautiful that birds and humans drop dead at her feet in "tribute." Amanda recruits the smitten Moody to improvise music during one of her risque performance art pieces at a gallery that will witness the birth of a revolutionary movement, New Cubism. Watson gently lampoons experimental art while having fun with narrative conventions. But the novel is not without a potentially grating cutesiness—a therapist named Dr. Love, a waitress whose fascinating life can't be narrated because of a contractual dispute, an "exit interview" with Moody dealing with his shortcomings as a hero—but ultimately its oddities prove more entertaining than wearisome. (Apr.)

Reviewed on 04/18/2014 | Details & Permalink

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