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October 15, 2021

George Ernsberger
Posted 10/15/21

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster).

A lovely novel, intricately worked out and carefully cast, about, yes, people who can make magic; so a fantasy (of sorts—it certainly …

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October 15, 2021

Posted

The Book of Magic by Alice Hoffman (Simon and Schuster).

A lovely novel, intricately worked out and carefully cast, about, yes, people who can make magic; so a fantasy (of sorts—it certainly never occurred to me that it might be factual; and I do wish, still, that it were). It is in fact the fourth and final novel of a series, of the sort generally called not fantasy but magical realism: no dragons and no wicked witches, but some interesting and intelligent people, carefully imagined and made real for us (“Oh, well, sure,” one thinks, “that is what it would be like to be—still yourself, human to the socks, but—have this…ability.”). I have begun to catch up with the first three, now, out in paperback: they are enjoyable in any order though they really do expect to be read in the order published: Magic Lessons, The Rules of Magic, Practical Magic. Hoffman commands a style that’s beautiful in the way great realist paintings can be—and creates complicated, emotionally charged characters to love and live with.

The Survivors by Alex Schulman (Doubleday).

Three brothers, the sons of alcoholic parents, now grown into seriously grumpy adults—but not stupid and not mean. They’ve gotten together to travel to their family’s summer home to scatter their mother’s ashes. So, much to think over, and much for a strong, fearless but compassionate novelist to work with. This is a meticulously constructed family story, beautifully told, engrossing, in flashbacks of course; but also a mystery novel, full of surprises. And finally, just a moving, saddening but satisfying read—and an author’s name to watch for.

Echoes of the Dead: A Special Tracking Unit Novel by Spencer Kope (Minotaur).

This is the fourth thriller in this series, which I have somehow overlooked; elsewhere, they’ve been well reviewed for perfectly good reasons. Spencer Kope is a crime scene investigator in real life, but he gives his series leading character a talent beyond skill, and presumably beyond his own: “Steps” Craig can see a distinctive “glow” left by any given person on anything they’ve touched. “Steps” uses it sparingly, as a tool needing to be understood to get the benefit of (he has told almost nobody about it), all the while Spencer Kope is giving us a conventionally realistic but strikingly original and energetic sort of tough-cop novel. You’ll be seeing more of this guy, not only in this column.

Marked Man: A Joe Gunther Novel by Archer Mayor (Minotaur).

Needs just a brief notice because he’s been recommended here every year or so for a good while now—but every Joe Gunther novel is in the running for best executed, in a certain sense even just plain “best” book, of any week. It resembles each of the other books in this column, in this way: A full cast of fully realized characters will live in your head for a good while.

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