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January 29, 2021

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 1/29/21

YELLOW WIFE by Sadeqa Johnson (Simon & Schuster). The voice of this stirring historical novel is that of a surreptitiously educated enslaved woman, in Virginia in the 1850s. It isn't didactic—this …

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January 29, 2021

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YELLOW WIFE by Sadeqa Johnson (Simon & Schuster). The voice of this stirring historical novel is that of a surreptitiously educated enslaved woman, in Virginia in the 1850s. It isn't didactic—this isn't a “cause” novel—the feeling we get is that she (the author as well as the narrator) just can't be bothered to preach. It's about people who are owned, and people who own them, so it's matter-of-factly horrifying, along with a lot else, including thrilling and (tactfully) sexy. As the adventure powers along, then, we may think at moments about what this life does, relentlessly, to owners as well as owned (one side's humanity is denied, but warmly and vividly present to the reader; the other side's is damaged, corrupted, but real to us, too); but only if our own minds insist on turning to it. The book seems only to want us to know a bunch of people and to tell a story—you know, what a novel is supposed to do. It is, then, suspenseful, harrowing in the way that great adventures can be, and, yeah, thrilling. Though we never catch the author straining after that, either.

THE SCORPION'S TAIL by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child (Grand Central). Already a bestseller, but then all of this team's books promptly show up high on the list. It's the second of a new series of theirs. The central character is a young archaeologist; she has a sidekick, an FBI agent, so they fit in fine here in Preston & Child world (the great Pendergast is just offstage). They are, of course, made warmly real, so, along with a lot else, we're really scared for them, some of the time. This is set mostly in our desert Southwest, but no doubt we'll do some globetrotting over the next few years. Long may they wave.

THE FOREVER GIRL by Jill Chalvis (Morrow). A trade paperback original novel, packaged honestly enough as chick-lit, I guess (it doesn't use that label, of course); but honestly, this is just quality popular fiction. Not literary, but not sappy, either; smart and honest. This is a writer who understands small-town life, and both those who stay and those who stay in touch, wherever their lives take them. Funny and sad and sweet and satisfying.

THE BREAKER: A PETER ASH NOVEL by Nick Petrie (Putnam). I've compared this guy (these guys) to Jack Reacher and Lee Child, and that wasn't overstated, but not quite right; Petrie's as fast and hard and as much fun, but allows in some complexity of motives, too. This is the sixth of these; if you like Reacher (who still has more readers, surely), well, this guy is just your cup of something a lot harder than tea.

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