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May 29, 2020

George Ernsberger - Columnist
Posted 5/29/20

THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco/HarperCollins). This is Pochoda's third novel—I haven't seen her earlier two, but this one is really strong, with character depth and emotional complexity and …

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May 29, 2020

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THESE WOMEN by Ivy Pochoda (Ecco/HarperCollins). This is Pochoda's third novel—I haven't seen her earlier two, but this one is really strong, with character depth and emotional complexity and variety (not just fear and suspense), and startlingly vivid from page one. It's set in Red Hook, Brooklyn, not one but at least two distinct neighborhoods, now, as gentrifying sets in (we learn, hardly noticing as we do). A classic crime novel structure: years ago, a serial killer disappeared without a trace; similar killings begin to occur now; we know a character who may be at risk. Tension is wonderfully sustained—Pochoda is respectful of the form and good readers' expectations of it. But she has expectations, too: her novel is distinctly literary, insistent on sustaining a style that's beautiful, not in the sense of something delicately woven, but beautifully made in the way the most serious, dead earnest noir movies were.

THE BLACK CABINET: AFRICAN AMERICANS AND POLITICS DURING THE AGE OF ROOSEVELT by Jill Watts (Grove). Deeply researched but readable, enlightening, and even entertaining narrative history of what might be understood as (among other things) the education in office of the great American president who grew as much after he was elected as in all of his life before that. Not that the book focuses on that factor; rather, we're introduced, warmly and intimately, to a host of black intellectual (more than strictly political) leaders—not a few of them, women—who worked tirelessly and exerted significant influence on the president's thinking and on American governance and, within what was possible (though from this distance we'd say not much was possible), meaningful influence on American life at large.

THE SPLIT by Sharon Bolton (Minotaur). There is always, in my mind at least, some fuzziness in the distinctions between domestic suspense and psychological suspense. Here, Bolton combines them ingeniously in ways I can't describe clearly without spoiling the reading. It's told in two very distinct settings, in two time lines—not historically different, it's the same person in both—and Bolton, maybe the best line-by-line writer we have in both fiction categories (subtly witty, for just one thing) tears us through them, headlong and hairflying, along with a complicated, likable woman, whom nevertheless we don't always trust.

THE NIGHT BEFORE by Wendy Walker (St. Martin's Griffin). Paperback reprint (big, trade paperback) of last year's psychological suspense thriller, Walker's third and every bit as ingenious, energetic, and satisfying as her first two. On-line dating, is the milieu, and it's also not preachy but matter-of-factly conscious and intelligent about the sort of world women today are navigating.

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