Category: Reviews

A Gentleman in Moscow Book Cover A Gentleman in Moscow
Amor Towles
Fiction
Viking Penguin
In Store Now!

In June of 1922 Count Alexander Ilyich Rostov appeared before the Emergency Committee of The People’s Commissariat for Internal Affairs.

...if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

The committee was less than sympathetic to the Count, disapproved of his lifestyle, and would have preferred that he be “taken from this chamber and put against the wall.” Instead, based on a long and influential poem of his that had appeared in 1905, in the wake of the failed revolt, the Count is ordered back to the Metropole Hotel in Moscow, where he has been living since his return from Paris in 1918, and informed that if he ever sets foot outside the Hotel he will be shot.

This wonderful novel spans the more than thirty years that Count Rostov spends in the hotel.  The world continues to turn outside the confines of the Metropole, and with subtle elegance the march of history is incorporated into the narrative.  The Count is sheltered, perhaps, but not immune.

I’ll leave to you the delight of discovering how Amor Towles has created such an enjoyable and memorable novel from these beginnings. The Count is a very special character, but his surprisingly large supporting cast is equally splendid, each one an inspired creation, each exquisitely developed.

As he did in his first book, The Rules of Civility, Amor Towles has created a novel that celebrates grace and goodwill. Count Rostov is a man of wit, sophistication, and sympathy, qualities generally in short supply in his own time (and sadly, in our own.) His indomitable resilience and amiable adaptability is an example for us all.

Rare is the novel that leaves you exhilarated at the end. A Gentleman in Moscow is satisfying and uplifting. I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

144127Amor Towles was born and raised just outside Boston, Massachusetts. He graduated from Yale University and received an MA in English from Stanford University, where he was a Scowcroft Fellow. After working more than twenty years as an investment professional, Towles now writes full time. He is also the author of the novella Eve in Hollywood, available as an e-book. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and two children.

By Gaslight Book Cover By Gaslight
Steven Price
Fiction
In Store Now!

By Gaslight by Steven Price is a big book, over 700 pages, but don’t let that put you off. I’ve read lots of big books, and maybe you have, too, so you know what it’s like to pick one up and open its cover for the first time. There’s nothing in the world like opening a BIG book, reading those first few pages, and having that delicious tingling feeling that this is going to be a good one, and maybe it’s time to cancel those dinners and movie nights for the next week or two. You’re going to be somewhere else.

In this case, the book is set around the world – Chicago, South Africa, the battlefields of the Civil War, on board passenger ships – but mostly in London. This is Victorian London, Dickens’ London of murky taverns and fog-enshrouded walkways leading to sketchy rendezvous. It is so well described that you’ll feel you’ve lived it, complete with horrible smells and endless meals of nothing but meat.

The setting is a character in the book, but the real characters and their stories are the reason to keep reading. By Gaslight tells a fictional tale of William Pinkerton, son of the man who started the Pinkerton detective agency, and Edward Shade, a man who haunts William’s father. William has decided to follow a lead and go to London to find Shade and discover the secret to his father’s life-long torment. First, he has to find Charlotte, who sent him the lead, but when he finally comes close to her, she jumps off a bridge into the Thames. Why would she do that? Who is she, anyway, and what is her relationship with Shade? And who are these strange people who keep popping up: this Adam Foole, his alleged daughter, and his friend, a giant?

This is Victorian London, Dickens’ London of murky taverns and fog-enshrouded walkways leading to sketchy rendezvous.

Read on! It’s a big story that goes back and forth in time, between continents, between characters, between love and hate and everything in between. Price is an award-winning poet. He knows how to write a sentence, and now we know that he can also write a story.

steven price authorSteve Price is the author of two award-winning poetry books, Anatomy of Keys (2006), winner of the Gerald Lampert Award, and Omens in the Year of the Ox (2012), winner of the ReLit Award. His first novel, Into That Darkness, was published by Thomas Allen to acclaim in 2011. He lives in Victoria, B.C.

The Infidel Stain Book Cover The Infidel Stain
Blake and Avery
Carter, M.J.
Fiction
In Store Now!
Hardcover

The second installment in the Blake and Avery series, The Infidel Stain is the sequel to The Strangler Vine, which hit our shelves just last year. The Strangler Vine saw William Avery, a young and ambitious recruit of the East India Company stationed in Calcutta in 1837 (much to his chagrin), where he is frustrated in his attempts to ingratiate himself with the ‘better’ parts of society yet dismissive and superior towards the Indian population around him. When he is teamed up with Jeremiah Blake, a notorious ex-solider, fallen from favour, and disgraced, he imagines what little luck he’s had up until this point has evaporated. Blake and Avery are paired on a mission to track down the Thuggee cult, believed to operate in large groups, to surround innocent travellers, win their trust, and then strangle them or slit their throats in the middle of the night.

Jeremiah Blake is a reticent man, and in many ways the opposite of Avery: he distrusts soldiers, officials, anyone with the slightest bit of power. He spends all his time in the slums, and speaks more in the local languages than in English. Unsurprisingly, there is a lot of antagonism between the two: Blake can barely stand Avery, the latter being naïve and superior towards the locals. And Avery is suspicious of Blake, having been told by their keeper to watch him closely. Blake is a loose cannon, after all, and has never been known to follow orders with zeal.

While the settings are what catch my attention, it is the characters that keep me interested and invested in the story.

Three years have passed since their Indian adventure, and while both have been struggling to adjust to Victorian England life, they are struggling for very different reasons. Avery is a married man expecting a child, and his family is pressuring him to make connections, to ‘advance himself.’ Blake has become an ‘inquiry agent,’ tasked with finding information among the seedier streets of London. In no way is there relationship repetitive or derivative in this second book. They consistently frustrate each other, follow their own notions, and keep secrets. Throughout the book it is obvious that both their hearts are in the right place, even if their intentions lead them down the wrong paths.

So, once again, Blake and Avery innocently get themselves caught up in matters well beyond their control and comprehension. More than a mystery, The Infidel Stain, like The Strangler Vine before it is a fast-paced adventure story. It is well-written and fascinating, in a nostalgic sort of way.

While the settings are what catch my attention, it is the characters that keep me interested and invested in the story. And this book is rich with characters of different stripes, styles, and motivations. So much so that even Charles Dickens makes a fleeting appearance.  I cannot recommend this book enough.

mj-carter

M. J. Carter is a former journalist and the author of two acclaimed works of nonfiction, Anthony Blunt: His Lives and George, Nicholas and Wilhelm: Three Royal Cousins and the Road to World War I. She is also the author of a previous Blake and Avery novel: The Strangler Vine.Carter is married with two sons and lives in London.