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June 5, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 6/5/20

A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster). The big new Dave Robicheaux crime epic (but then, more)—as always, self-contained, can be read as a stand-alone. And after all these years …

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June 5, 2020

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A PRIVATE CATHEDRAL by James Lee Burke (Simon & Schuster). The big new Dave Robicheaux crime epic (but then, more)—as always, self-contained, can be read as a stand-alone. And after all these years of saying he keeps getting better and better, I need to try to convince you that this is, so far, and is likely to remain, his very best ever, every bit as strong as every earlier one—rich and vividly evocative writing, deep understanding of all sorts of history, crowded with intrigue, incident—action. And with genuinely new elements (as a hint: it isn't just the atmosphere that's spooky in this one). If you haven't been a reader, I suppose I can't convince you to start here; but c'mon, pick this one up and read a couple of pages. Just the richness and clarity of the writing might get you that quickly.

THE CUBANS by Anthony DePalma (Viking). This is a deeply intelligent, politically savvy, but also just lovely . . . travel book, I suppose. It spends most of its attention on a particularly interesting sort of suburb, or borough, of Havana, with a rich history and established cultural character, once aristocratic, ethnically and socially mixed, and artistic (it put me in mind of more than one neighborhood of Manhattan), and particular people there that you'll be glad to get to know and richer for knowing.

THE SILENCE by Susan Allott (Morrow). A remarkably assured first novel. Domestic suspense: a woman uncovers dark secrets (maybe) about her marriage and her family life in a physical setting that isn't familiar to her. And yet another “category” novel that satisfies on that count—tension mounts relentlessly—but won't be summed up adequately in that way. It's also, part of it, historical fiction; not ancient, just a generation back, but a dark (real) episode in Australia's history that may have involved our central character's father in a very ugly incident. This is what literary fiction can do just by never letting seriousness either leave the premises or get in the way, and what suspense fiction can do as it's comfortably containing its author's serious ambitions.

BIG SUMMER by Jennifer Weiner (Atria). This fine big summer read is already a substantial bestseller, on merit. Funny and romantic, but unafraid of real emotions in both romances and friendships—you know, what the author's name promises and faithfully delivers.

WORSE ANGELS by Laird Barron (Putnam). The terrific third novel in this crackling witty private eye series. These books are set upstate, around Kingston, but are recommended here for no provincial reason. This guy makes that neck of our woods seem intricately connected to the bigger world, the big leagues of both crime and power.

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