The Pink Hotel: Liska Jacobs

In The Pink Hotel, from Liska Jacobs, newlyweds Kit and Keith Collins arrive for their honeymoon at a prestigious Beverly Hills resort. Keith is the general manager for a mediocre “quaint roadside hotel” in Boonville, a small Northern California town, and Kit is a waitress at the hotel’s restaurant. As a couple, they’ve been together for 5 years, and Kit, fully absorbed into her husband’s career and ambitions is about to embark on a sommelier course. It’s through the hotel restaurant that Keith met the Beaumonts. Mr Beaumont ascertains that Keith intends to take his honeymoon in Napa, and degrading that suggestion, instead proposes they come to the hotel he manages in Beverley Hills. And so the Kit and Keith are at the Pink Hotel; Kit, awed by the ostentatiousness and outrageous prices, thinks this is their honeymoon, and the start of their new life together, but Keith has another agenda; he’s hoping for a job under Beaumont’s tutelage.

It doesn’t take long to see that Kit and Keith are out of their depth, but they don’t seem to realise it. Mr Beaumont has an arrangement with an employee, Coco, and Mrs. Beaumont seems to think she will have a similar arrangement with Keith. As Kit and Keith sink into the opulent lifestyle and let their decadent, new friends pick up the tab, the process of corruption takes place. The idea of a honeymoon recedes farther into the background with morality somewhere in the rear view mirror. Meanwhile, fires are breaking out all over the region and smoke fills the air. The guests sport fancy masks “fashionable with beading or sequins” and the staff have flimsy blue paper masks but some of the guests object to this. Apparently they spoil the ambience. As the fires rage, social unrest builds outside of the hotel grounds.

The novel is at its strongest depicting the almost-desperate desire to belong–to hang onto the ephemeral, temperamental whimsies of the rich. Kit’s caution over the menu prices and Keith’s insistence that the prices don’t matter (while he swallows hard) feel all too real. It’s a once in a lifetime getaway that they will be paying for for years. The desire of the have-nots to mingle with the Mega-Haves is painful. However, the social unrest outside of the hotel and the egregious petty, callous behaviour of the rich, placed the novel into an allegory zone–think Bunuel but updated to modern Beverly Hills. So we have the rich, served by the poor in a lavish enclave. Wildfires rage outside these walls, so the poor and disenfranchised suffer first, but ultimately Climate Change impacts everyone. These parts didn’t work so well for me, and seemed overdone. Even the name Boonville seems trite. I’m not overly fond of allegory (The Pilgrim’s Progress is an exception), and the novel is painfully slow at some points.

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Funny Girl: Nick Hornby

Nick Hornby’s novel Funny Girl follows the life of Barbara Parker, a young woman from Blackpool who idolizes Lucille Ball and dreams of becoming a comedienne. It’s 1964 when Barbara enters the Miss Blackpool beauty pageant, and even though she gains the title, she knows it’s not what she wants. Society favours looks over talent all too often and Barbara decides she can’t trade on her looks. So off to London where she gets a job at Derry and Toms on the cosmetic counter. Many of the young female employees, would-be actresses, read The Stage. Barbara is “anxious for news of anyone who had found some sort of secret show-business tunnel out of the store.”

Living in a grimy bedsit with a flat mate and working a boring job only leads to more acting dead-ends until she meets agent, Brian Debenham on a night out at Talk of the Town. Brian signs Barbara for her stunning blonde good looks and voluptuous figure, and while many consider these assets, Barbara runs the risk of being type cast. At first Brian doesn’t understand that Barbara really wants to act. He tells her to “smile. Walk up and down. Stick your chest and bottom out.” Brian sees Barbara as cheesecake:

Sweetheart, you only have to stand there and people will throw money at me. Some of which I’ll pass onto you. Honestly, it’s the easiest game in the world.

Barbara’s faith in herself leads her to a casting call for Comedy Playhouse where she meets writers, Bill and Tony, Dennis the junior comedy producer and actor Clive. It’s meeting that marks the turning point of her life.

Success comes to Barbara when she is cast in Barbara (and Jim) as a Northern girl from working class roots who meets and marries a posh London tory. The series smashes norms of the times by cashing in on class, education, and political differences through its two main characters. The novel draws in many cultural icons of the times, Till Death Us Do Part, Hancock’s Half Hour, Steptoe and Son and that perennial favorite, Radio Times. Hornby recreates the shifting social scene of 60s Britain with the BBC facing ITV as a competitor, and formerly taboo subjects making their way onto the TV screen.

It’s all very well done and it’s a great trip down memory lane. The novel is expository so we don’t get into Barbara’s head as much as follow her life, her career, and her personal choices. It’s a fun light read but will have more appeal to British readers for its cultural references. All I could think of was Barbara Windsor….

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Elizabeth Finch: Julian Barnes

Elizabeth Finch, from Julian Barnes examines the relationship between the narrator, Neil, and his one-time professor. The novel explores the problems of memory and biography and asks how well can we ever know a person–especially a multi-faceted, private person such as Elizabeth Finch.

Elizabeth Finch teaches an adult education course, “Culture and Civilisation.” The students range in age from 20-40, and there’s a great deal of speculation about Elizabeth, a curious woman of contrasts, and her private life. Neil notes that it easy “to stray into fantasy.” As a lecturer/professor, Elizabeth Finch, or EF as Neil later refers to her, is challenging, yet she provides a reading list which is “optional” and notes “I may well not be the best teacher, in the sense of the one most suited to your temperament and cast of mind.” That last sentence, which seems so casually spoken on the first day, turns out to have great significance.

She appeared to have settled on her look some time ago. It could still be called stylish: another decade, and it might be antique or, perhaps vintage. In summer, a box-pleated skirt, usually navy; tweed in winter. Sometimes she adopted a tartan or kiltish look with a big safety pin (no doubt there’s a special Scottish word for it). Obvious money was spent on blouses, in silk or fine cotton, often striped, and in no way translucent. Occasionally a brooch, always small and, as they say, discreet, yet somehow refulgent. She rarely wore earrings (were her lobes even pierced? now there’s a question). On her left little finger, a silver ring which we took to be inherited, rather than bought or given. Her hair was a kind of sandy grey, shapely and of unvarying length. I imagined a regular fortnightly appointment. Well, she believed in artifice, as she told us more than once. And artifice, as she also observed, was not incompatible with truth.

The novel can be sliced into 3 sections: the introduction (and departure) of Elizabeth Finch, the middle section which is Neil’s long-delayed student essay on Julian the Apostate, and the final section which covers the end of Elizabeth’s career and Neil’s conclusions about his former professor.

I loved the first part of the book as Neil charts his relationship with Elizabeth Finch. Sometimes it’s the hard to define relationships that are the most interesting. EF rather uncannily reminded me of a professor who later became a friend for several decades, and so when I read that Neil intended to become EF’s biographer, I was fascinated. Unfortunately, when Neil delivers his student essay as some sort of post-death tribute to Elizabeth Finch, this entire middle section threw me in the Slough of Despond. I probably wouldn’t have minded reading about Julian the Apostate if I’d sought a book on the subject, but as is, the plot seems hijacked…no … abandoned. In the final section, Neil returns to the subject of EF and the novel revives as he discovers that he was not the only student who maintained a relationship with this very private, exacting person. Meanwhile, Neil tries to excavate details of EF’s private life and finally talks to a former student who has an entirely different opinion of the professor. Ultimately, we are left with more questions than answers, and the mystery of a professor who became one of the most significant people in Neil’s life, while another student remembers her as rather ordinary. What does that say about our perceptions, our biases, our memories?

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Reputation: Sarah Vaughan

Sarah Vaughan’s Reputation takes a look at the life of British MP, Emma Webster, a divorced woman in her 40s who makes a number of bad decisions. When the book opens, we know that something very bad has taken place, and then Emma goes back through her recent past to the moment when things started to go wrong in her world. Emma pinpoints the first bad decision, the one “that started everything,” as the magazine photo shoot in which she is swayed by flattery and the presence of a male photographer to assume an aggressive, sexy posture.

Was I subliminally so desperate for male admiration? At forty-four, so conscious of becoming sexually invisible that, despite everything I stood for, I let myself be flattered by and play up to his uncompromisingly male gaze?

This scene sets the stage for all that is about to go wrong in Emma’s life, plus it reveals her Achilles’ heel. Politicians seem to fall on their own petards–most commonly a sex scandal petard. Politicians are not unique in their embroilment in sex scandals, but since there are journos watching, participants who may sell their stories, and enemies lurking in the shadows, there’s a good chance that the secrets of politicians will be exposed. Political sex scandals are highly leakable and who doesn’t like to read about a good, meaty sex scandal?

Since Emma’s divorce, the family home was sold and Emma now lives with two other female MPs. Emma shares custody of her daughter, Flora, with her ex. Meanwhile Emma’s ex, David, seems to be flourishing with his second wife Caroline, who was Flora’s piano teacher, no less.

Caroline, who had encouraged me to stand as a politician, then moved with alacrity to fill my space once I got into office.

A veritable viper in the bosom. David, with his new wife, has had a make-over, he’s fitter, lost weight, and sports a beard while Emma. … well she’s marching on and ploughing herself into her political work. The fact that David’s appearance has improved may partly explain why Emma is flattered into presenting the ‘sexy’ side of herself to the public through the magazine spread. Not, as it turns out, a good decision.

I liked the way we see Emma’s reaction to the new David–it must be a bit of a ego blow to see one’s former spouse dusted off, spruced up and flourishing in another relationship. Emma is not a particularly appealing character–this may possibly be because Emma really has no idea who she is, and while she is passionate about one political cause, Revenge Porn, she is a rather typical politician when it comes to issues that don’t fit her agenda (veteran’s mental health). Now there is no law against stupidity and Emma makes some really stupid decisions. Emma’s stupid decisions work plot-wise as the author laid the groundwork to make those decisions plausible, but still, I found it hard to care one way or another what happened to Emma–the loose cannon on the political payroll. The story unfolds through Emma’s eyes and is punctuated with vicious, reductive social media comments. How pathetic that worlds begin and end with the largely unaccountable actions of social media gladiators.

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Complicit: Winnie M Li

“What latest studio head or screen icon will find his past circling back on him? In horror films, there is the silent horde of the undead, dragging the villain down to a well-deserved fate.”

Winnie M Li’s second novel, Complicit is a post MeToo# tale mostly told from the point of view of Sarah Lai, a 39 year-old Chinese-American woman who teaches film at a NY community college. Once upon a time, Sarah bucked her Chinese restaurant owning parents’ ambitions for their daughter and launched herself into the film industry. But now, 10 years post that experience, Sarah has no ties to that period, except some memories and a tiny mention on IMDB. What went wrong?

Sarah loved film, and we wince while she teaches her mostly untalented students as they try to create screenplays. It’s clear that this job, although secure, is not what Sarah wanted. Sarah is contacted by New York Times journalist Thom Gallagher who wishes to interview her about her experiences with film mogul British billionaire Hugo North and actress Holly Randolph. Sarah admits to herself; “In some way, I knew it was coming.”

The novel takes the form of Sarah’s narrative and interview notes between Gallagher and various sources. When Thom interviews Sarah, she goes back in time to her early days in the film industry and her first ‘break’ when she worked initially as an unpaid intern for Sylvia Zimmerman, the owner of Firefly Films. While working at Firefly Films, Sarah met director Xander, a not untalented man whose loose script for the film A Hard Cold Blue, is carved into shape by Sarah. Sarah’s work load expands over the course of a few years moving from the title of PA and then AP. Xander’s film makes it to Cannes where it garners the attention of Hugo North. North is looking to invest and expand to the film industry, and so he buys into Firefly Films and instantly changes the name to Conquest Films.

But it’s not just the name of the company that changes. Domineering Hugo North loves to party and loves to break down inhibitions: so it’s cocaine and girls all the way. Xander is happy to be on board and Sarah, always the quiet one on the fringes, finds herself bowing to pressure, and joining in. In one memorable scene, Hugo and Xander flick through piles of photos of actresses for Xander’s next film. The moment, complete with crude comments, seems more about screening potential sex partners than actresses:

If you told two-hundred plus actresses that they would be summarily judged just like that, declared en masse to be inappropriate for a lead role, their hearts would be crushed. But aspiring actors never suspect the cold reality of the business, they’re too bewitched by the illusion that the industry peddles about itself: that if you’re talented enough and passionate enough, you’ll get your big break one day.

When production moves to LA, it’s fairly obvious where Sarah is headed, but the attraction of watching this slow train wreck does not lessen for that knowledge. A sticky web surrounds Sarah, but she thinks she has choices… well she does, but those choices will have unpleasant consequences which ever way she moves.

The tale, with its bitter, unsavory truths, unwinds through the memory of Sarah’s experiences. Hugo North is a vile man who gets what he wants, but then wants new toys. People like Hugo North do not exist in a vacuum. He throws money and coke at people and gets what he wants–if someone has moral scruples, no matter, there are plenty of people who don’t or who are willing to park their morals at the door and turn a blind eye. The title Complicit says it all, and I loved the way the author shows that no one comes out of this story without a stain.

There are those who turn a blind eye to events and others who known damn well what is going on but pretend otherwise. Some things we cannot bury, no matter how much we obscure them with gift bags and PR statements and smiling photographs. The truths live on, even though their traces can only be found if we’re looking: in the comments that were edited out, the glances in unpublished photos, the meetings that took place behind closed doors but were followed by strange silences. Or one-way messages, never returned,

So we are all seeing it now. I saw it then, too.

But I pretended I didn’t.

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The Martins: David Foenkinos

This is the first time I’ve been persecuted by my characters.”

There must be a lot of great benefits to being a writer–lots of down stuff too, no doubt, but it’s the complications of authorship I thought of as I read the delightful novel The Martins from author David Foenkinos.

In The Martins, a Parisian author has hit a roadblock. He’s “struggling” to write when he decides that his fictional characters fill him with “boredom.” Desperate, he decides that the first person he sees in the street will be the subject of his next book. He expects to see the mysterious woman who works in the travel agency below his apartment, so he’s disappointed when he sees an elderly woman crossing the road “pulling a purple shopping trolley.” The woman is grandmother, Madeleine Tricot, a woman whose life on the surface seems ordinary and boring. Madeleine is only too happy to talk to the author and soon he’s soaking up details of her career in the fashion industry, a wise, steady but not thrilling marriage, and a lover who suddenly departed for California.

Madeleine’s middle-aged daughter, Valérie insists on being included in the book, and that involves the author meeting Valérie’s family: Patrick her stressed-out husband, their 15-year-old son Jérémie “lazy and lethargic,” and 17-year-old Lola who is openly hostile. At first, the author thinks that “there was something relaxing about having characters prepared to take charge of the story,” but as the author is dragged into various unsavoury situations involving the Martins, he learns that dealing with real people instead of fictional characters is a lot more work. He notes:

For the first time in my life, I am being manipulated by one of my characters.

While the author starts out seeing himself as a passive sponge, an observer, a listener, soaking up details of real life, he is, instead, written in to the Martins’ lives in various ways. As he is drawn into the Martins’ lives, each of the family members give him a role to play. Lola wants the author to have a chat with her boyfriend. Valérie wants to know if the author is married and she is eager to delve into the secrets of his love life. Authors are supposed to manipulate the characters for the plot, but in The Martins, it looks as though the author is the one filling the needs of the family. Complications escalate, and life for the author becomes messy.

I had infiltrated a tired family, trapped on the wheel of routine; passengers on the same ship who brushed past each other without ever really meeting.

The fact that the Martins may soon see their lives in print, has a ripple effect; it’s a bit like reality TV when people know that the camera is rolling. Some dramatic developments take place which may very possibly have been created by the Martins for the sake of the book’s plot. The author’s presence in his characters’ lives cannot help but impact the book that he is going to write:

I had to be careful, my characters were capable of falsifying reality to present themselves in the best possible light.

The author is a marvellous narrator, with the perfect pitch of self-analysis and contemplation. This delightful novel takes a playful approach to serious questions such the role of the author, the author’s interpretation of events, and the lines between fiction and non-fiction. The author admits “I was altering the trajectories of the lives I wanted to describe,” and thus we see that the process of writing inevitably alters the author and his ‘real-life’ subjects.

Review copy. Translated by Sam Taylor

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First Born: Will Dean

Will Dean’s crime novel First Born revolves around the murder of one of two identical twins. The novel begins with Molly preparing to leave the UK to fly to New York. She is to join her parents who are already in New York on holiday to visit Molly’s twin, Katie. Katie was attending an American university on a generous sponsorship/scholarship depending on who you talk to. The holiday, however, turned into something else with the news that Katie has been murdered. Molly, a highly neurotic character, packs her bags, leaves London and flies, with great trepidation to New York.

Molly and Katie, may have been “identical,” but they were polar opposites in temperament: molly is risk-aversive and, yes, paranoid whereas Katie embraced life with zest, took chances and accepted change. Molly knows very little about Katie’s life in New York and she proceeds (with self-created monkey fist at the ready) to do her own investigation.

There’s no shortage of suspects: Scott, the good-looking boyfriend who isn’t so grief stricken to cancel his regular rowing practice and then there’s Shawn, the creepy son of the Katie’s landlady. And what about that slimy professor Groot, and Katie’s best friend Violet Roseberry who was in a “Nuthouse in the Catskills.” Molly even sniffs that her father is hiding something.

There was a lot about this novel that seemed off to me. So on one level, there’s bizarre stuff going on: Molly’s parents have to move from their decent hotel to a stinky run down vomit-fest of a hostel. Molly, an extremely annoying character, btw, is running around on the loose in New York, armed, doing her own investigation. Speaking of investigation: the names of the detectives are Martinez and Ramirez and then there’s PI Bogart de Luca….To this reader the names seemed … well… derivative or else there’s something weird going on here with the whole story. …

This seemed like a fairly standard who dunnit-it in terms of development until the half way point, but then the book turned into something else. There’s a unreliable narrator that’s clear and acceptable and then one that isn’t. For me, the plot became completely implausible.

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Permission: Jo Bloom

“I just like the idea of a little sexual adventure. You can understand that, can’t you?”

In Jo Bloom’s novel, Permission, a happily married couple decide to grant each other permission to step out of the confines of monogamy. With clear rules laid out, what could possibly go wrong???

The novel begins explosively with married couple Steve and Fay involved in a fight between friends Mike and Katie In an evening spent between the two married couples, Mike discovers that Katie has been cheating on him; things quickly escalate and Steve and Fay must intervene. The incident leads to a discussion between Fay and Steve regarding monogamy. They’ve been married for over 20 years, finally have a nice home, have 2 kids together, and while sex is good, somehow Fay thinks she is missing out on life. She brings up the idea of giving each other ‘permission’ for extra-marital sex. Steve is reluctant but agrees mainly to keep Fay happy. Big mistake. We all have certain morality boundaries, and those boundaries are sometimes invisible and untested until a situation arises. It’s clear that Steve has no interest in Fay’s suggestion, and it’s an ego blow. Fay meanwhile has her eye on the first extra-marital lover. …

British author Jo Bloom shows how a couple who actually have a decent life together screw it all up when Fay, feeling bored and a bit short-changed by a lack of sexual experience, decides she wants to branch out. Reading Permission is like watching a train wreck. You can see collision ahead and know it won’t be pretty, but your eyes are drawn to it nonetheless.

I don’t think Permission is meant to be funny, but there were sections I found savagely, grubbily funny. Other parts were just sad. There’s Steve gloomily scrolling through Tinder and then actually writing and printing out ‘the rules’ of the arrangement for extra-marital relationships for both he and Fay to sign. Probably not a good analogy here, but imagine writing out rules for animals at the zoo and then letting them out of their cages. That analogy probably says a lot about my opinions of marriage and human nature–two things which are inexorably intertwined. When a monogamous couple decides to step out of the boundaries of marriage or some other exclusive relationship, you can write as many rules as you want. It simply doesn’t matter because whatever rules you dream up, you cannot predict the consequences going forward and the rules are not going to fix things once those boundaries are crossed. Neither Steve nor Fay conceive of the issues they will face post monogamy. So in that sense, this is a cautionary tale.

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The Wycherly Woman: Ross Macdonald (Lew Archer #9)

“I glanced up at her small tense face. She looked like a bunny after a hard Easter.”

In The Wycherly Woman, PI Lew Archer becomes embroiled in the ashes of an acrimonious divorce in pursuit of a missing daughter. Archer is summoned to the home of the obnoxious bombastic Homer Wycherly, a wealthy man who has just returned from a cruise only to find that his only child, Phoebe, has been missing since the day he sailed. Homer Wycherly hires Archer to find Phoebe with the odd admonition that Archer not, under any circumstances, contact his ex-wife Catherine, a woman with, according to Homer, a “vile tongue.”

Just a little digging and Archer discovers that Phoebe was last seen in the company of her mother. Phoebe came aboard her father’s cruise ship to say “Bon Voyage,” but the moment was ruined by Catherine Wycherly who came aboard the ship before it sailed and created a scene with Homer. She demanded money. Two months have passed and during that time, Phoebe has not been seen at Boulder Beach College, at her rooming house, or by her momma’s boy boyfriend, Bobby. Bobby’s acidic mother is, or was, also Phoebe’s landlady. Archer is sure that Bobby knows more than he’s saying, and it’s clear that there’s no love lost between Bobby’s mother and Phoebe.

Although Archer is told by Wycherly to steer of Catherine, after he learns that Phoebe left the ship with her mother, he has little choice but to talk to Catherine. One missing person case quickly becomes a case of two missing persons. Catherine, a full-bodied, loud-mouthed blonde long past her sell-by-date, has also disappeared. Her residence, bought with money from the divorce, is up for sale, and when Archer starts asking questions regarding the real estate agent involved, the body count rises.

Archer encounters a lot of lonely, lost women on his way to solving the mystery:

You’re a hard man, aren’t you? But I like you, I really do. Are you married?

No.

I don’t know what to do with myself. I don’t know where to go.

She leaned towards me with a lost expression, hoping to be found.

For most of the book, I thought The Wycherly Woman could end up being at the top of my Archer list. I liked the book’s structure, and the elusive glimpses Macdonald gives the reader of Phoebe, a troubled girl who never recovered from her parent’s nasty divorce. I didn’t come close to unraveling the mystery, and the toxic stench from Homer and his relatives kept me guessing. On the down side, the plot twist was hard to swallow. Can’t say more than that without giving too much away.

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Aurora: David Koepp

Since COVID, I have developed a taste for The-End-of-Civilization-as-We-Know-It books, and that brings me to David Koepp’s novel, Aurora. The novel is set post-COVID, and it’s a world in which some people are solidly prepared for the next disaster (or so they think), but the majority are focused on surviving day-to-day. The novel opens with almost breath-taking speed when scientists discover that a CME (coronal mass ejection) will take out most of the world’s power grids within hours. This leaves the world, and for the purposes of this story, North America, without electricity. Ok, so we have all ridden out a power outage, but how would we survive if that power outage extended to 6 months? A year? It wouldn’t be pretty.

The novel follows two storylines: billionaire Thom Banning is totally prepared for the next apocalypse–so much so that when he gets the news of the impending Black Sky Event, he’s excited. He’s an obsessive control freak, and the prospect of a societal meltdown kicks his plan into gear. He hustles his pissed-off wife, 2 children and a carefully selected number of staff to his compound in Utah. The compound is a renovated government nuclear missile underground silo. Thom bought this for a pittance and then ploughed millions into his prepper project. Some of those millions are locked in the underground bunker. It’s a entire compound with armed guards and a guard house. There’s a:

six thousand-square-foot modernist chateau nestled into the artificial hillside beside the gatehouse. It was designed to shelter a single family, Thom’s family, for as long as things stayed somewhat docile out in the world at large. But the real masterpiece, for when the shit really hit the fan, was all underground, inside the converted silo, which was now fourteen floors of scrupulously conceived subterranean living space.

The second storyline follows Thom’s sister Aubrey who lives in Illinois with her teenage stepson, Scott, the remnant of an ugly marriage to Rusty–a low-life whose addictions took over his life, and his marriage. Thom’s prepper plans included whipping Aubrey into readiness, but when the lights go out, Aubrey has a total of 11 cans of beans in the basement. …

We see the wealthy hit the road on the way to their mountain hideouts while those in the suburbs scramble for food, find strength in numbers and show great ingenuity. Meanwhile, the slums get slummier, and crime spills from the have-nots with alarming alacrity.

David Koepp is a screenwriter and it shows here in this remarkably visual page-turner. I was not surprised to read that there’s a film version in the works. For the first 9/10 of the book, I thought this would be one of my reads of the year, but in spite of a fantastic start and some highly dramatic scenes right towards the end, for this reader, the book finished with a fizzle. That said, it’s a perfect cinematic ending. We hear about social unrest across America, but the action stays focused on Thom and Aubrey. Thom, in his “Fuhrerbunker” discovers the hard way that you can plan for every scenario, but the vagaries of human nature are impossible to control. I had to laugh at the ways his meticulously devised plan melted down almost immediately. Hilarious.

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