CIA veteran David McCloskey’s New Thriller: Moscow X

Two years ago, David McCloskey hit it big with his debut espionage novel, Damascus Station. Hordes of readers, intelligence professionals, and critics alike praised its realism and lively, timely plot. His new book, Moscow X, is even better, with more than one pundit calling him “The new John Le Carré.”

There’s no point in suggesting the plot in anything other than broad brush strokes because, in the tradition of the best spy fiction, what’s happening on the surface, the day-to-day events, are only a small part of the picture. And probably misleading too. I saw this story as essentially about the interplay of three women, all three well characterized, committed, and worth rooting for. But vastly different agendas.

Outspoken and profane Artemis Aphrodite Procter is back, heading a new CIA unit called Moscow X whose aim is to undermine the Russian Federation and—yes, McCloskey names names—Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin. Her unconventional approach to spycraft gives her a creative edge in this job and, naturally, keeps her skating on some pretty thin bureaucratic ice. Hortensia Fox is a CIA operative working at a London law firm that specializes in handling the assets of wealthy Russians. Calling herself Sia, she’s busily trolling for information and cultivating contacts. Anna Andreevna Agapova is a Russian FSB agent, member of a wealthy Russian family, and married to an even wealthier man she cannot stand, for good reason. The Agapova family is being systematically shut out of the government power structure and, as the story opens, a huge portion of its wealth is stolen at the behest of a Putin intimate. Anna and her father believe (or prefer to believe) this occurred outside Putin’s awareness, and they want their money back.

Procter, as much a fireball as ever, sees an opportunity for Sia to use this theft as an opening wedge that will lead to, well, who knows? Maybe getting the money back and maybe in a way that looks like a coup was in the works. If Putin hasn’t paid attention to the internecine warfare among his cronies, he cannot ignore an attempted coup. And would take dramatic, destabilizing action in response.

Procter’s team develops a rather charming ruse to get Anna and her husband, Vadim, in contact with the Western agents. Vadim and Anna live on a large horse farm outside Saint Petersburg. Sia offers a visit to an elegant Mexican horse farm, headed by Maximiliano Castillo—around Sia’s age and handsome—leaving out the critical detail that the farm has been a CIA front for decades. All Max and Sia need do is act like a couple and winkle their way into the Russians’ confidence, Anna’s at least, through the business of buying and selling and riding thoroughbreds. It becomes a clever cat-and-mouse game between Anna and Sia and your opinion of which is the cat and which the mouse will keep changing.

Difficulty piles onto difficulty. What makes this book such an exciting read is that, between the Russians’ impenetrable motivations and the Western agents’ complicated and shifting agendas, there is no end to the potential dangers Max and Sia and Anna face, with Procter wringing her hands back in Langley. Although all the characters’ actions make sense, according to their own visions of reality and self-interest, you nevertheless can’t predict what will happen when you turn the page. When your operative in a hostile country starts looking for a beam she can throw a noose over, you know the situation has reached a desperate point.

Oh, and did I mention it’s winter in Russia? Lots of snow. Snow everywhere. You can’t hide your tracks or your heat sig and, of course, those drones with their facial recognition technology are watching. When Max and Sia visit Anna, they know microphones and cameras are everywhere, even in the bedroom, so their being a couple has to seem real to those watchers—more challenging than it sounds.

McCloskey effectively evokes the paranoia and suspicion of the autocratic Russian state, in contrast to sunny San Cristobal. The author avoids most mention of the drug cartels, and you may wonder how the Castillo family keeps that brand of violence away from their barns and pastures, but so much bad stuff is going on—you’ll never miss it.

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Kill Show by Daniel Swearen-Becker

Author Daniel Sweren-Becker must have been well tuned in to the zeitgeist when he conceived Kill Show, his newly published mysteryl that delves into important critiques of the true crime genre. Written in the style of a television documentary script, the novel consists almost entirely of short verbatim quotes from 26 of the story’s principals, with no descriptions unless a character happens to provide one. The principals are being re-interviewed a decade after the events they’re called upon to explore. The book is their testimony.

Ten years earlier, in suburban Frederick County, Maryland, 16-year-old Sara Parcell disappeared. Her parents and brother panicked. Her friends were bereft. School officials tried to console. Local police were baffled. Now, as they talk about Sara, her family, the community, the disappearance and its aftermath, they amplify, contextualize, and at times contradict each other. Piece by piece, the story comes into focus.

In the emotional turmoil immediately after Sara’s disappearance, her dad, Dave Parcell, waves his bank statement in front of the cameras camped outside his home. He has $1762. That’s all. But he’ll put it every dollar of it up for a reward. A dramatic moment the news cameras catch, but not as viral as the cell-phone video Sara’s brother Jack makes a few moments later, showing Dave and his wife Jeannette back in their house, embracing, Jeannette in hysterics.

Across the country in Hollywood, Jack’s video sparks a brilliant programming idea in the head of Casey Hawthorne, a reality TV show producer. She convinces her boss to pay for her and a production crew to fly to Maryland, and then convinces the Parcell family that a reality television series—Searching for Sara—will bring massive attention to the disappearance and help get their daughter back.

They are desperate. They agree. To say Casey Hawthorne is full of herself, manipulative, and not to be trusted hardly describes the extent of the void in her character. Once in Maryland, right at the start, she makes a strategic choice that negatively influences everything that comes afterward. She meets Detective Felix Calderon in a bar, and, rather than revealing who she is and why she’s really in town, she lies. And sleeps with him. As a result, when aspects of the case start to deteriorate, the lead detective on the case has no credibility with the public, his superiors in the police department, or the prosecutor.

Of course, many more people involved in this debacle are lying. And, if not lying outright, they’re not telling the whole truth, or they’re shading it to justify their actions. Many characters undergo a shift in perspective over the course of the weeks the search drags on and shocking revelations emerge; others seem incapable of taking new information on board. In the end, quite a few Frederick County residents have reason to take a hard look at the role they played in the outcome.

When Sweren-Becker wants to delve into ethical grey areas, he provides comments from a pop culture critic or a sociology professor. In that way too, the novel reads very much like a real-life television documentary. This device never becomes tedious or heavy-handed. Meanwhile, in real life, true-crime dramas have come in for criticism, even though they’re still immensely popular. (A 2014 13-episode podcast, Serial, also about the murder of a Maryland teenager was downloaded more than 340 million times in the first four years of its availability.) Sweren-Becker’s story effectively demonstrates the main critiques of the genre: exploiting real people for entertainment, looking for sensation rather than examining systemic problems, and objectifying victims. Casey Hawthorne’s Searching for Sara is definitely guilty on the first two counts. If you have your own reservations about the public obsession with true-crime shows, this book will confirm them. Partly due to the format and partly to the compelling situation, this is a quick read, yet a profound one. Highly recommended.

More critique of the true-crime phenomenon are in my recent blog post: “Is peak true crime in the rearview?”

Valley of Refuge

Valley of Refuge, the new thriller by John Teschner, starts off like a mystery. At least it was a mystery to me, with three intriguing stories evolving at once. Social media magnate Frank Dalton is doing something Big on the Big Island of Hawai`i, a woman passenger on a Hawai`i-bound airplane has completely lost her memory and doesn’t recognize the person her passport says she is, and a young Hawaiian woman, Nalani, is at risk of losing her ancestral lands, which the magnate wants.

As the stories move forward—and especially as the memory of the woman called Janice Diaz gradually returns, these strands weave into a tightly constructed, complex plot. Because the action—and Teschner packs plenty of it into the novel’s seven-day timeline—takes place almost exclusively in Hawai`i, you’re treated to elegant descriptions of the topography and plant life, the fishing and surfing, the sunsets and weather—including a cataclysmic rainstorm at the climax that will leave you feeling drenched.

Frank Dalton heads a company called Sokoni that dominates the social media world. Make that “the world.” But for someone who amassed his fortune enabling people to make connections with each other, his project in Hawai`i is the antithesis of that. He’s building a no-expense-spared refuge with the impossible goal of keeping people out.

Janice Diaz is whisked from the plane to a hospital then turned out on the street. No luggage. No reservations that she knows of. No friends or family. She has a phone, but doesn’t remember its security code. And, someone is trying to kill her.

The scenes with Nalani, her mother, and her Uncle Solomon, expert in the ways of nature, contrast starkly with Dalton’s artificial world. The Hawaiians are happy with their meager parcel, while Dalton’s multimillion dollar estate fills him with anxiety.

It takes a while for the characters’ roles in the story to shape up, and Teschner uses short chapters to bounce you from one intriguing plot point to another. The pace gradually picks up steam, acquiring such strong narrative power that the last day’s events rush forward like the storm itself.

All these characters are well realized, and I especially liked Janice Diaz, the homeless woman who helps her, Nalani, and the realtor struggling to finalize the transfer of Nalani’s family’s property. Naturally, it’s harder to warm to Dalton, with his narcissism and conviction he can control the universe, but that portrayal is effectively drawn too. Teschner uses a fair amount of the Hawaiian language—both by the Hawaiians and the whites who want to show how with-it they are—but it isn’t hard to follow. Context usually takes care of it, and he provides a handy glossary, just in case. It’s an exciting and atmospheric read. Loved it!

Dead Drop

James L’Etoile’s award-winning crime thriller Dead Drop takes a 360-degree look at the intertwined issues of illegal immigration, drug and arms smuggling, and unfettered violence plaguing the southwest United States and the challenges they present law enforcement. After a career spent in the California penal system, L’Etoile has seen these problems play out first-hand. In this action-packed story, you do too.

When it comes to the illegal border crossers, Phoenix, Arizona, detective Nathan Parker tries vainly to hold on to the principle, “Yes, they’re desperate, but what they’re doing is against the law.” But when he’s faced with some of the realities the immigrants confront—and, ultimately, when he becomes an illegal border crosser himself—he starts not just to see, but to appreciate the other side of the story.

In this novel, the immigration issue has many troubling dimensions—fentanyl trafficking, rapacious coyotes, weapons galore, disregard for human life, and the spotty coordination of federal, state, and local efforts to combat any of these. The quest for personal and organizational glory makes inter-agency cooperation more difficult, as always.

While the U.S. Attorney is working to create an airtight case against the drug smugglers—a process that’s taking literally years—people are dying in real time. One of them was Parker’s long-time partner, a death for which Parker blames himself. A new lead appears when a cell phone number is found on a dead man. He’s one of four found in the desert, sealed up in 55 gallon oil drums. Parker’s encounter with the owner of that cell phone leads to his suspension from the force.

The barrels were discovered by Billie Carson, a woman living on the raggedy margins of society, scavenging whatever she can find abandoned in the desolate landscape. Billie has learned how to navigate a dysfunctional support system and, contrary to his expectations, Parker learns a lot from her. Suspended, he isn’t supposed to keep investigating any link to his partner’s shooting, but (of course) he does, and Billie and he may be at risk because of their connection with the bodies in the barrels.

Given all the players—criminals, law enforcement, bystanders, innocent or not—it’s a complicated plot with a lot of characters and a lot of agendas, much like real life, probably. L’Etoile writes convincingly about his law enforcement characters, and some have managed to maintain a sense of humor. Billie’s a solid female character, but several of the other women are less believable.

The way L’Etoile describes the unforgiving desert environment of northern Mexico and south Arizona, for many people and even for a time for Parker, it’s almost as much an enemy as the gun-toting coyotes smuggling people through the tunnels under the “impenetrable” U.S. border wall.

It’s a memorable story, and if you want to read more about this troubled area, I recommend Don Winslow’s The Cartel and Down by the River, riveting nonfiction by the late investigative reporter Charles Bowden.

Order here from Amazon (if you use these affiliate links, Amazon sends me a small payment):
Dead Drop
The Cartel
Down by the River

drugs, El Paso, Rio Grande, narcotraficantes, DEA, Border Patrol, Mexico, Texas
U.S. Border Patrol agents on the Rio Grande (photo: c1.staticflickr)

Pumpkin Spice Reading

pumpkin, book art

Ghostly apparitions, the bloodier and unDisneyfied fairy tales, the scary stories told around a campfire. They all become more spine-tingling as darkness closes in on the days of autumn.

At some time in the next three weeks, if you want to prep for Halloween by more than filling a plastic pumpkin with candy for the kids, here’s a trio of horror short stories designed to shiver your timbers and get you in the mood.

“The October Game” by Ray Bradbury (1948) – A sadistic spouse, a pitch-black basement, a game that just might go awry, Bradbury partners with your imagination to ramp up the chills. Hear it here on the Classic Ghost Stories Podcast, which offers many more.

“Berenice” by Edgar Allan Poe (1835) – Less well known than “The Tell-Tale Heart,” “The Fall of the House of Usher,” or “The Pit and the Pendulum”—all of which are heart-skippingly scary—this one appeals to me because I’ve used it to create two of my own short stories. You can read Poe’s original here. He describes an increasingly unhinged young man who marries his cousin. He obsesses on her teeth. And when she dies, he pulls them out. I’ll let you discover the rest for yourself. My 21st century version, published in Quoth the Raven, is about a meth addict (the bad teeth) obsessed with her twin brother and his girlfriend who has perfect dentition. It doesn’t end happily. My other story based on “Berenice” ends much more happily and appears in a 2021 collection titled Sherlock Holmes: Adventures in the Realms of Edgar Allan Poe. Holmes and Watson to the rescue!

“The Landlady” by Roald Dahl (1959) also invokes the virtue of beautiful teeth. A young man needing a cheap place to stay makes a bad choice. A master class in devious foreshadowing. You know you’re in for it when the first paragraph ends, “But the air was deadly cold and the wind was like a flat blade of ice on his cheeks.” Read it here.

Now, go grab a sweater.

The Plinko Bounce

Fans of television’s classic quiz show, The Price is Right, will recognize the Plinko in the title of Martin Clark’s new legal thriller. It’s a juiced-up game not dissimilar to Pachinko, the Japanese gambling game that similarly titled an award-winning 2017 novel. The connection both these books have to their eponymous games is the notion that seemingly random developments steer someone’s fate.

Patrick County, Virginia, public defender Andy Hughes finds himself saddled once again with the thankless job of representing serial offender Damian Bullins. And these are Bullins’s most serious charges yet. This time he’s accused of murdering the African American wife of Mormon pastor Cole Benson. He’s even confessed. But . . .The book follows the incredible twists and turns (the Plinko bounces) that propel this case from disaster to potential success.

Andy is a smart, caring guy, with a new girlfriend and an eight-year-old son. Early on, one of the county’s persistent drunks and petty criminals—whom staff of the public defender’s office call Regulars—dies in the county jail, and his dog Patches won’t leave the jailhouse property. He’s waiting for Zeb, as always, but this time Zeb isn’t coming for him. Patches ends up part of the Andy Hughes household too.

By contrast, Bullins is a hot mess. Drugs and liquor don’t improve the logic he applies to his situation, but he isn’t stupid. In fact, Hughes and his boss Vikram Kapil believe Bullins may be a little too clever in his ploys to outwit the system. His ability to twist every development in the case to serve his strange logic is simultaneously amusing and horrifying, as he transparently schemes to pervert justice. Apparently, he’s aware this is an era when the more outlandish a claim is, the more likely it is to gain credence. The rascal just might get away with murder.

Clark’s characters are interesting and highly individual, with just the right amount of backstory. The beautiful areas of rural southwest Virginia on the North Carolina state line are woven into the story, as are its small towns and small-town sensibilities.

Author Clark is a retired Virginia circuit court judge who served on the bench for some 27 years. His experience shows in several riveting courtroom scenes. No questioning the legal underpinnings of this tale, either. Clark makes clear the limits and strains on the public defender system when it’s faced with a penniless, manipulative defendant like Damian Bullins. Yet, despite giving every respect to the legal intricacies of the proceedings, Clark never gets bogged down. His writing is clear, and the story moves forward briskly. Watching Andy Hughes try to live up to the ethical tenets of his profession in the face of a thoroughly reprehensible defendant is a struggle worth witnessing.

Order it from Amazon here. (As an Amazon affiliate, I receive a small payment for products ordered through this website.)

A Twisted Love Story

If only the main characters of Samantha Downing’s new psychological suspense thriller, A Twisted Love Story, would tell the truth once in a while, a lot of their problems would be solved and maybe even avoided. Wes Harmon and Ivy Banks have been an on-again, off-again couple for almost a decade—ever since college—and their breakups are every bit as passionate as their reunions. But if they each harbor secrets, they also share a growing list of them. And those shared secrets put them on a slippery path leading straight to prison.

Early on, Wes meets the couple’s main antagonist, Karen Colglazier. She’s a detective with the Sex Crimes Unit of Fair Valley, California, the featureless mid-sized town where Wes and Ivy live. It seems Ivy has accused him of stalking her and described to Colglazier the ominous notes, presents—including a box of half-eaten chocolates—and pictures, she’s been receiving. Nothing against the law, technically. Not so far, but Colglazier believes a visit from the police often puts a stop to such low-level harassment. Wes denies doing any of it, but then he would, wouldn’t he?

Ivy, fierce and funny, has perhaps the weakest impulse control you’ll ever encounter in fiction, and Wes believes that reporting the alleged stalking was her way of getting his attention. In the past, she’s used some dramatic, even damaging, ways to do that. He’s obviously on Ivy’s mind because when he shows up at her apartment the night of Colglazier’s visit, she gives every indication she was expecting him. The relationship, heavily burdened with the baggage of past mistakes, is on again.

Detective Colglazier is far from convinced by Ivy’s new forgiving attitude toward Wes. She believes Ivy’s denials are further evidence of how afraid and beaten down she is. Her prominent blind spot may be in the wrong place in this instance, but her instinct that more is going on here than meets the eye is correct. Wes and Ivy may seem doomed to keep reenacting their breakups and reconciliations, but it’s Colglazier’s doggedness that creates the book’s tension. Can they ever be free of their past mistakes without being free of each other? If you like thrillers involving dangerous secrets and struggling relationships, this may be a good book for you.

Samantha Downing, born in California, has made a specialty of psychological suspense since her successful 2019 debut novel, My Lovely Wife.

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What Makes a Fiction Writer? Jo Nesbø

Norwegian crime writer Jo Nesbø recently gave The Guardian a rundown of the books he counts among his greatest influences. His dad grew up in New York, so the household included a wealth of books by America authors, which exposed him to early favorites Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn –“food for the imagination for a kid like me.” With Tom Sawyer, he found his first murder mystery.

(Note that Huckleberry Finn is number 33 on the American Library Association’s list of books most frequently challenged in libraries and schools from 2010-2019.)

As a teenager, Nesbø’s perception about what literature can and should deal with evolved, in part due to reading Jean Genet’s classic, The Thief’s Journal. He says he knew he wanted to be a writer after reading some gritty works—On the Road by Jack Kerouac and Ham on Rye by Charles Bukowski—which may have inspired some of the noir strains in Nesbø’s own writing, especially the Detective Harry Hole series (the only works of his I’ve read).

What a big debt most successful writers owe their early inluencers! Like me, you may be surprised when self-proclaimed authors say that they “don’t read,” or that they don’t read in the genre they want to write in. As a friend has said, “reading is like breathing in; writing is like breathing out.” Writing requires reading. Nesbø endorses this notion, even saying that “writing is a result of reading, like making music is a result of listening to music.” He calls it a social reflex, the way people tell stories around the dinner table, or the campfire, or in the foxhole. Storytelling was a strong tradition in the southern United States, which could be why so many great storytellers have southern roots.

Now that Nesbø is older and an acclaimed writer himself, some authors no longer hold appeal (Hemingway), though he’s still making discoveries (Joseph Roth’s The Radetzky March) and has returned to some authors with new appreciation—he cites his fellow Norwegian Henrik Ibsen, (whose play, An Enemy of the People, is one of my favorites). Currently, he’s reading Jonathan Haidt’s The Righteous Mind, which would seem to be feeding the same impulse that made him think about what literature should deal with. It will be interesting to see if some of Haidt’s ideas about how people make moral judgments find their way into Nesbø’s fiction.

Nesbø is the popular author of bestselling crime thrillers like The Snowman and The Son, has a new horror novel out later this week, The Night House, available for pre-order. Tagline: When the voices call, don’t answer.

Image: By Elena Torre – Flickr: Jo Nesbo, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19747762

Deep Roots by Sung J. Woo

Deep Roots is an entertaining soft-boiled PI story, second so far in a series by Sung J. Woo that features Korean American detective Siobhan O’Brien. If the name and the ethnicity seem at odds, it’s because Siobhan was adopted by an Irish-Norwegian couple in Minnesota, as was her African American brother, Sven.

O’Brien inherited a private investigation business from her deceased boss (whom she misses), and a former client suggested billionaire Philip Ahn might benefit from her help. Ahn’s illustrious Korean lineage traces back to the late 1500s. At least. His estate—Woodford—is on a San Juan Island he owns in the far northwest United States, near the Canadian border.

Ahn wants Siobhan to come to Woodford to perform a delicate task. Now over 80, Ahn has been married three times. These alliances have produced three daughters and one son, Duke, a college student. If something happens to Ahn, Duke, the youngest of his children, will take over the businesses, something it is immediately obvious the young man is unprepared to do, intellectually or temperamentally.

Ahn, his three wives, Duke, and his daughters and their partners, along with two grandchildren, all live at Woodford together. If you’re familiar with the Zhan Yimou’s wonderful movie, Raise the Red Lantern, which Woo cites as an inspiration, you’ll be alert to the desperate rivalries and other difficulties enforced spousal proximity can engender. Siobhan’s principal contact in the family is Ahn’s daughter Lady Mary. You won’t go far wrong if you keep in mind the elegant and self-contained Lady Mary of Downton Abbey—another source Woo credits as contributing to his early ideas.

The issue Ahn wants Siobhan to resolve is Duke’s identity. He makes the rather extraordinary statement that the boy “is not who he purports to be.” If Duke were booted from the line of succession, though, which mother, and which daughter (or grandchild) would take his place? Thus, a lot is riding not only on what Siobhan discovers, but how she goes about discovering it.

Siobhan can summon ‘SiobhanDrone’ to lead her to any remote corner of the estate as she goes about interviewing family members. SiobhanDrone also will bring her anything she wants (under two pounds), etc. The support system and technology at Woodford is over-the-top, but if you loosen your grip on reality just a bit, it’s at least almost plausible and a lot of fun!

Told by Siobhan, the story depends for its success on how engaging she is as a character. I liked her a lot—her wit, her wits, her ability to say the wrong thing and move on, and her strong desire to do the right thing. Once Philip Ahn disappears and is presumed dead, her investigation has multibillion-dollar consequences for everyone in the family.

There’s a brief secondary plot involving her brother Sven and an unlucky business venture that isn’t really needed, and the setting of the climactic moments truly stretches the imagination, but on the whole, the characters are so nicely built out and act in ways so consistent with their personalities you will play right into Soo’s capable hands.

Raise the Red Lantern – Find ways to see it here.

Come with Me by Erin Flanagan

In the new psychological thriller Come with Me by Erin Flanagan (cover pictured), a woman, put simply, is forced to grow up. She hasn’t realized she needed to until circumstances make her come to terms with her responsibilities. Taking charge of your own life, when you’re accustomed to letting others make the important decisions for you, isn’t easy. In her case, not doing it might prove deadly.

Gwen thinks she has what she’s always wanted, a devoted husband, a lovely daughter, a nice life in Boulder, Colorado. The tiny cracks are only at the edges, and at least she’s far from the confines of Dayton, Ohio, where she grew up.

Once, just out of college she did briefly strike out on her own with a four-month internship at a Dayton media company. While the other two interns paired up as leader and acolyte, Gwen stayed outside their circle, preoccupied with her upcoming wedding.

Ten years later, but early in the story, her husband Todd has a fatal heart attack, leaving Gwen bereft. His death isn’t the only blow. Solely in charge of their finances, Todd has sunk all the couple’s money into his start-up business and run up huge debts. Gwen now has no husband, no money, no house, and no job experience. She’s forced to move back to Dayton into the home of her increasingly debilitated, prickly mother.

One lucky thing, though. Online research reveals her fellow intern from a decade earlier, Nicola, the leader in their little trio, is still at the company, and, better yet, is still a leader. She’s moved up smartly in the organization. When Gwen calls her to explain her plight, Nicola starts throwing out lifelines.

If you have ever had a manipulative friend, if you’ve learned the hard way that favors often come with strings attached, and if you recognize the signs someone is seeking power and control, you will wish fervently that Gwen were more aware. But even she has limits and a mother’s instincts for danger. Watching her complete trust in Nicola crumble ever so gradually is one of the chief pleasures of this story. And, while we might wish it would happen sooner, that’s not who Gwen is.

The story is focused pretty tightly on a small cast of women: Gwen, her daughter, her mother, and, of course Nicola. In a few interspersed chapters, Nicola’s own difficult upbringing. By the time of the internship, Nicola has developed five rules for living and Gwen knows them well: Don’t let anyone make you feel small; know your friends (that’s a biggie for Gwen); trust your instincts (ditto); never look back; and truth, not facts.

Author Erin Flanagan lives in Dayton, Ohio, and writes about life in the town with great authenticity. She is also a professor of English at Wright State University in Dayton and won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for her debut novel, Deer Season, which I thought was wonderful—complex, well imagined, indelible characters.

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