The aspect of the psychic is usually overwrought into a sense of the supernatural but using it as a matter of perspective to solve a case of missing persons in an interesting perspective. In “The Burning Island” [Hester Young/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/416pgs], Charlotte is a woman with kids who is a journalist by trade but her gift seems to be finding lost children. She lost one of her own though sickness so her perspective is fueled by saving those she can find and redeem versus those she cannot. The book begins with her and her partner Josh helping find a lost boy in the Arizona desert (through her visions), It is not clear if this was from a previous book or just a prologue. That said, after paparazzi and gossip publications camp outside of her house because she found these lost people through visions, she and her best friend decide to escape for a girls week on the Big Island of Hawaii to unwind. They choose a small local town with a bed and breakfast not far away from Volcanoes National Park. it is an isolated town but her assigning editor sends her there as well to do a piece on a local scientist with a penchant for Ironman competitions. What she finds is two of three interconnecting stories that pierce her visions but it is about unraveling these thoughts and her own hang ups. The back drop is an interesting perspective and the eventual reveals are low key but also not overwrought. It is a balanced read in a relaxed sort of way. Some of the human structure of behavior is both interesting but also divisive in terms of creating a sense of motivation (although an interesting perspective from a reverse psychological progression is something like “Baby Teeth“). “The Burning Island” is a specific read without too much density of trouble in paradise but the texture of life hanging just below the surface.
By Tim Wassberg
Characters that go looking for trouble usually find it even it is the ones they love sending them to the slaughter. Peter Ash seems to have it all from a beautiful girlfriend with a no-nonsense way about her to an idyllic home in the Pacific Northwest. But he can’t sit still. In “Tear It Down” [Nick Petrie/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/384pgs], Ash is drawn (or sent as it would be) to Memphis to help his girl’s old friend Wanda, a former war photographer, out of a mess. What follows is Peter being dragged into the underworld of Memphis with aplomb though to be fair many of the characters’ motivation are narratively sound despite being slightly out of whack. Ash as a character is cool and collected much like an old school John McClane or Jack Reacher. The potential, especially with how he functions, defies reality in most instances but there is something undeniably charming about his approach with an almost altruistic bent hiding a dark war past. Even his closest friends is criminal in the old school Dillinger mode who is always there for them. Ash tries to paint a perfect anti-hero world even if it is really not. The bad guys from a smart kid who ends up on a dark path to a ex con who has filed his teeth into sharp tips with a full Blu face tattoo have their own gripes even though they seems to follow a path that will extricably lead to their deaths. The sequences keep getting bigger until the carnage almost becomes too significant to suspend disbelief. Even though it is entertaining at times despite the body count, the interesting approach is that many of the characters on both sides are thinking, even in the moment, about the body count despite the amount of ammunition being volleyed back and forth. It is an odd paradox at times. Ultimately the resolution makes sense but the carnage overwhelming for a progression of this specific pace. It is brewing and brewing but then it seemingly goes off the rails in the final instance of the 3rd act. The balance is not kept but it is fun to watch these cowboys run blazing into gangland like it was the Wild West making allies, enemies and sometimes reluctant colleagues along the way.
By Tim Wassberg
The essence of “The Paragon Hotel [Lyndsay Faye/G.P. Putnam’s Sons/432pgs], shows a texture of different lives being lived in the essence of a period piece with a very relevant social message. Above all, within the structure, Alice “Nobody”, who grew up as the daughter of a sex worker in 1920s Harlem, shows an interesting dichotomy of structures. The texture of the gangster landscape and of innocence lost serves strictly as the set up and not the rule of thumb. Nobody knows who she is inherently at the get go and what she is good at. Her life was never meant to follow that of her mother but to disappear into the ether with a sense of knowing. It is her circumstances and her strengths that allow her to evolve within the idea of who she could be which is inherently a spy for the mob. The balance of the story teeters from her old life in Harlem and what caused her to escape under physical duress on a train to Oregon to the rightly named Paragon Hotel, where everything is perceived from altered angles. The social upheaval there gives an interesting parallel to her situation but in an all together different perception of tolerance and understanding. All the people within this structure are not necessarily good people but they are creatures of circumstance, Blossom Fontaine is one of the most interesting parallels considering her backstory. Alice ends up being the unwanted resident of an all black hotel in Portland undergoing its own sort of intrinsic social battle and persecution. The author gives a view into the racial strife suffered by the residents there despite the location being in the Pacific Northwest. The intrinsic nature of the KKK, its perceived influence and the balance of behavior because of different progressions of time especially involving the wife of the chief of police: Evy and a young colored boy: Davy who goes missing, create the the conflict and propelling nature of the story. However it is the intrinsic nature of the relationships of Alice and their psychological structure, specifically with her childhood friend Nicolo in Harlem in direct relation to her burgeoning friendship with Blossom, a cabaret performer that really make the story work in addition to her gangster guardian: The Spider, who both creates and destroys her despite his best intentions in the same breath. The different personalities in the Paragon Hotel from the cook to the elevator operator to the head of the house also paint a very vivid portrait because the puzzle pieces don’t fit together at all yet they still operate as a whole. Even Alice’s guardian angel in Portland, Max, a lieutenant from the 1st World War turned porter, who in a matter of fate saves her despite the danger to his own person (in saving a white woman who is undeniably in pain in an arena where it might have been better left alone) parallels a similar structure which propelled “Mudbound”, a Netflix film set in the same period starring Jason Mitchell and Carey Mulligan. Ultimately “The Paragon Hotel” is a novel about identity and how one changes to fit a certain idea yet the truth of the personality always creeps through to the surface,’
By Tim Wassberg