Archive for August, 2014

Something Wicked…

The Supernatural Enhancements, by Edgar Cantero, (Doubleday), 368 pages

Edgar Cantero’s The Supernatural Enhancements is a delight of a novel—particularly if you enjoy a bit of paranormal activity alongside your quest to solve the mystery left behind by the unknown, distant relative. The reader is thrown into the novel’s action from the start, as it literally opens with a journal entry missing the first pages. You’re in the thick of things and have to get your bearings as you keep moving.

As a preface, the novel offers the statement that “The following collection of documents details the events that occurred at Axton House, 1 Axton Road, Point Bless, Virginia, during the months of November and December of 1995. The footnotes are the editor’s only contribution. The first page is missing.”

The documents include the aforementioned journal, a separate dream journal, letters, telegrams, ciphers, written communication between a pair of characters one of whom is mute, transcriptions of voice and visual recordings—including store security cameras, and a handful of ephemera. In this sense, The Supernatural Enhancements strikes me as a modern-day successor to Bram Stoker’s Dracula, which also purports to be assembled from a variety of sources.

The Supernatural Enhancements is as much puzzle as novel, requiring readers to put the varying types of information alongside one another in order to follow the narrative. That’s what makes it such a delight. I can pretty much guarantee that no matter how seasoned a reader of this sort of mystery/historical thriller you are, you won’t see things coming. The narrative shifts under one’s feet like sand, changing the meaning of material that has gone before. Even at the finale, there are surprises yet in store.

At 368 pages, The Supernatural Enhancements is substantial enough to take you through a vacation weekend. Pick up a copy, and let it keep you company as you put your ordinary life aside.

*****

I was provided a free electronic ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The views presented are my own.

August 05 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

A Painter Painting a Painting of a Painter Painting a Painting of a Painter Painting a Painting…

The Art Restorer: A Novel, by Julián Sánchez, (Barcelona eBooks, Open Road Integrated Media, Inc.), 345 pages (approx.)

Reading Julián Sánchez’s The Art Restorer is like walking into a house of mirrors. Everywhere you look, you see the same thing—but distorted. The Art Restorer is a novel within a novel within a novel, and although each thread is distinct, they are at the same time a set of narrative isomers: slightly different in style or structure, but serving the same purpose.

The narratives in this story occur along two different temporal paths: during the Nazi occupation of Paris and in present-day San Sebastián, Spain. The World War II narrative centers on the life of the muralist Josep Maria Sert. Sert’s name is not all that familiar today, but during his lifetime he was regarded as the greatest artist living, and he produced mammoth commissioned works for cathedrals, corporate buildings, and private collections. One of these commissions was a group of murals for Rockefeller Center that can still be seen today.

According to Sánchez’s novel, during the Nazi occupation of Paris, Sert, who was popular among Parisian circles and also had solid relationships with some of the occupiers, worked as  sort of “fixer.” He provided black market goods or or could arrange the release of a detainee.

The main present day characters are all connected to Sert. There’s Craig Bruckner, the art restorer of the title, who hopes to write the definitive monograph on Sert’s works and who turns up dead—murdered?—early on. Bruckner had been studying Sert murals at the San Telmo Museum, where he befriended the new public relations director, Bety Dale. And finally we have Enrique Alonso, originally from Spain, now living in New York, author of historical thrillers, and ex-husband of Bety—who just happens to be writing a novel that includes Sert and that moves between two settings: Nazi-occupied Paris and present-day Spain.

Got all that? One of the characters is writing a book that mirrors the book in which his book is being written. In addition, chapters of the book he’s writing appear in the book in which he’s doing that writing.

What’s wonderful is that all this works. The characters and narratives are woven together so effectively that the novel feels purposeful from the start. Sánchez intertwines truth and fiction and fictional fiction in a way that leaves the reader wondering where the truth lies. And, as he explains in a forward to The Art Restorer, that’s exactly what he wants to do:

In keeping with the custom of all my novels, part of the events described are based on a true story. I leave it to the reader’s imagination and investigative ability to discover which are real, and which are fictitious.

Because Sánchez, like his character Alonso, is a writer of historical thrillers, the details of Sert’s life point to a mystery that needs solving, a mystery that Alonso puts at the heart of the novel he’s writing as he and Dale try to solve that mystery.

All in all, The Art Restorer is a delight. It demands attention from the reader, but repays that attention many times over. Once you begin reading, you’ll find yourself putting all other activities aside as you wait to see how the stories end. One particularly good piece of news is that this is the second of two books featuring Enrique Alonso and Bety Dale. You can also have the fun of reading the first of this pair of novels: The Antiquarian.

*****

Note: The publisher provided a free copy of this book for the purpose of review; the opinions expressed here are my own.

August 04 2014 | Uncategorized | 2 Comments »

William Howard Taft and Fisticuffs at One Thousand Feet

The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy, by Jacopo Della Quercia, (St. Martin’s Griffin), 400 pages

If you want a summer read that’s both gripping and silly, Jacopo Della Quercia’s The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is just the read for you. One could also make a case for it as an unconventional choice for back-to-school reading. Take your pick.

In the America of this novel, William Howard Taft is much more interested in prize fighting than in presidenting—in the political arena he’s just a beard for his wife, Nellie, who really runs the country. Taft spends his time aboard Airship One (a dirigible) with his sidekick Robert Todd Lincoln holding special Cabinet meetings (the “special” cabinet is the liquor cabinet).

Taft and Lincoln stumble into a mystery via a pocket watch that previously belonged to Abraham Lincoln. They set off to solve the mystery, after first disabling the run-amok Taft automaton taking the President’s place in the White House:

“Mr. President… your decoy is stuck in the bathtub again.”

“Confound it! I keep telling them its exhaust port is not submersible. Someone get Nikola Tesla on the telegraph. Tell him I’m tired of plugging holes in the backside of Thomas Edison’s engines!”

This is pretty much the tenor of the entire work and it’s good fun, balancing the ridiculous with the historical. In fact, the more you know about American history, the more you’ll enjoy it. Della Quercia has a long resume as both a teacher of history and a writer of satire, and The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy is full of quick snippets of humor.

Thomas Edison is the brunt of a number of jokes. At one point, Taft paraphrases Edison saying, “He said something about perspiring and taking credit for other people’s inventions.” Later in the story, the first officer of the Titanic looks at Taft “with the same shock as if he had just seen an iceberg.”

As Taft and Lincoln come closer to understanding the mystery initiated with the discovery of the pocket watch, almost every major figure of the era is brought into the action: cabinet members, army officers, barons of industry, Arthur Conan Doyle, even the rapacious King Leopold of Belgium.

When you need a pick-me-up with enough complexity to stay satisfying throughout, you can’t do better than The Great Abraham Lincoln Pocket Watch Conspiracy.

*****

I received an electronic ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions expressed are my own.

August 01 2014 | Uncategorized | No Comments »

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