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April Smith's Home Sweet Home, Chan Ho-kei's The Borrowed and E. O. Chirovici's The Book of Mirrors, reviewed Add to ...

Home Sweet Home

By April Smith

Knopf, 368 pages, $35.95

April Smith might not be a prolific author but, as readers of her Ana Grey series know well, she’s a good one. Her latest, Home Sweet Home, isn’t part of that series, but it is a fascinating examination of a time and place in American history. Based loosely on a true story, Smith takes us to South Dakota in the 1950s. Calvin and Betsy Kusek are New Yorkers in search of a new life who arrive in Rapid City, on the edge of the wild wild west. The family prospers, with each member finding a life in the hardscrabble world of ranching and local politics. Tensions rise thanks to Senator Joseph McCarthy’s witch hunt – Betsy’s youthful foray into labour unions, as well as a brief membership in the Community Party, bring the family under suspicion. They launch a lawsuit to protect their reputation – which they win – but 40 years later, a vicious attack makes it apparent that old hatreds are still alive. A beautifully written and skillfully plotted thriller.

The Borrowed

By Chan Ho-kei, translated by Jeremy Tiang

House of Anansi, 490 pages, $19.95

A brilliant book from an award-winning Hong Kong writer who combines classic crime fiction with the history of modern Hong Kong, The Borrowed is actually a cleverly constructed series of novellas woven together. Kwan Chun-dok is a legendary Hong Kong police officer whom we first encounter in 2013, when he’s on his deathbed. Although in a coma, he’s still able to sift through clues and assist his beloved “Sonny” Lok of the Central Intelligence Bureau. (How he accomplishes this is not to be revealed here, but it works.) The novel’s six episodes take us 50 years back in time. Old-timers such as me will recall the delightful Judge Dee series by Robert van Gulik, which was based on real cases from a seventh-century judge’s records, known as the Dee Gong An, and which Chan Ho-kei has adapted, as well. This one is great fun, as well as highly informative. House of Anansi continues to bring us some of the best crime novels from around the globe.

The Book Of Mirrors

By E. O. Chirovici

Atria, 276 pages, $35

Books about writers always catch my eye and this first novel is a particularly good addition to the subgenre. It may help that E.O. Chirovici is Romanian German, living in England and writing about the United States. Or it could just be that he’s extremely talented. Whatever it is, the premise – an unfinished novel by a dead author that may be a confession to a heinous crime – is great and Chirovici takes full advantage of it. Peter Katz is a literary agent who receives a manuscript that might have gone unnoticed if it weren’t for the fact that it arrives just after Christmas, a dead zone for most books. The novel is set at Princeton in the late 1980s and the heart of the novel is the murder of a famous professor on Christmas Eve, 1987. The book appears to be leading to a confession, or a revelation, but it ends, unfinished. After learning the author is dead, Katz begins to assemble the clues. There are several twists and the end, in particular, is very good – do not, please, read this one in reverse. Chirovici is definitely a writer to watch.

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