Monthly Archives

September 2011

Book Review: HIDEOUT by Kathleen George

Originally reviewed for Shelf Awareness, printed here with permission.

Jack and Ryan Rutter are out driving one night, with a drunk Ryan behind the wheel, when their truck hits and kills a young mother. They flee to Sugar Lake, a summer community north of Pittsburgh, to hide out in a vacant house their mother once rented for vacation when they were kids. Younger brother Jack does odd jobs for eighty-two-year-old Addie Ward, who lives nearby, to keep them fed and under the radar until he can get Ryan to a safer place. But Detectives Colleen Greer, John Potocki, Artie Dolan, and Commander Richard Christie are closing in on the brothers, causing Ryan to take violent action that puts Addie in danger. Jack then has to make the impossible decision between protecting his brother and saving Addie’s life.

After her Edgar-nominated The Odds, it’s clear Kathleen George knows how to put a crack in readers’ hearts with stories about kids trying to survive after adults fail them. Jack, who’s nineteen, is a good boy who goes unappreciated by everyone close to him. It’s painful to see his innate decency denied by the circumstances of his life. Until he meets Addie, who shows him what he’s capable of when someone cares about him.

Ryan, on the other hand, is rotten, though he’s the mother’s favored son. Once you meet her, you understand why. The woman is a nasty piece of work who has no business procreating. The cops are amusing enough with their banter and sexual tension, but readers should pick up this book to get to know Jack.

Nerd verdict: Seek out Hideout

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Book Review: THE CUT by George Pelecanos

This ran in the Shelf Awareness readers edition yesterday. It’s being reprinted here with permission.

George Pelecanos begins another series with The Cut, introducing new protagonist Spero Lucas, a 29-year-old Iraq War veteran who does investigations for a D.C. defense attorney. One of the attorney’s clients, a drug dealer, hires Lucas to find and retrieve his stolen shipments of marijuana. The job seems standard fare at first, with Lucas canvassing neighborhoods and looking for witnesses. But then a double murder occurs, and Lucas finds he needs all the warrior skills he learned while fighting in Fallujah to go up against his formidable opponents.

Lucas is an appealing lead, made more so by his contradictions. He’s a tough guy who regularly dines with his mother. He has an iPhone but likes reading the print version of the newspaper. He may have witnessed horrors in Iraq but can be refreshingly naïve when it comes to women. And he can work on both sides of the law, as long as the job pays well.

Pelecanos has the amazing ability to cut to the heart of something in very few words. Witness the following: “They kissed standing up in her living room. Her mouth was made for it.” Are any more words necessary to describe how perfect the kiss is? As always, the author has a sharp ear for dialogue, giving Lucas witty banter with his brother Leo, and rarely relying on tags and character attribution to indicate who’s talking in any given scene. The dialogue does get too expository at times, but the pace is fast enough that those instances can be overlooked. Readers will want to add The Cut to their Pelecanos collections, and it’s good to know Lucas will be back to fight another day.

Nerd verdict: Both hero and writing are sharp in Cut

 

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Movie Review: THE DEBT

Mirren

The Debt‘s release has been delayed for some time, mostly due to Miramax becoming defunct, but Focus Features is finally getting it out in time for the last holiday weekend before fall. It’s directed by Oscar-nominated John Madden, and stars Oscar-winning Helen Mirren and Oscar-nominated Tom Wilkinson, as well as current “It” actors, Jessica Chastain and Sam Worthington. Is it worth a look? Yes, but it has its flaws.

The movie, a remake of the Israeli thriller Ha-Hov, opens in 1965 with a trio of Mossad agents, Rachel (Chastain), Stephan (Marton Csokas), and David (Worthington) returning to Israel after a mission to capture a Nazi war criminal called the Surgeon of Birkenau (Jesper Christensen, with creepy menace). Then it cuts to the present, with an older Rachel (Mirren) at a publicity event for her daughter (Romi Aboulafi), a journalist who has written a book about her heroic mother. Rachel is asked to read a passage, during which we see a flashback of the events being described. Afterward, the audience applauds while Rachel looks uneasy. The film moves back to 1965 in East Berlin to show why.

From L: Chastain, Worthington, Csokas

Because the bulk of the action takes place in the past, the movie belongs more to the younger actors than the veterans. This is not a bad thing. Chastain gets to play Rachel in the more complex scenes—Mirren mostly just has to look conflicted—and she’s definitely up to the task. Though Chastain doesn’t look much like Mirren and comes across more delicate, there’s an intelligence and determination in her eyes that make her a believable agent. She also gives Rachel a vulnerability and quiet terror, which makes the agent on her first field assignment braver for doing what she does. Rachel gets out of tense situations more by keeping her wits about her than because she’s impossibly buffed up, though she does pull some effective physical maneuvers.

Csokas, a New Zealander, is charismatic as Stephan, the de facto leader of the trio. He doesn’t look like Wilkinson any more than Chastain resembles Mirren, but it’s good to see that the filmmakers were more concerned with getting good actors than being hung up on physical similarities. Worthington is adequate enough, as he is in Avatar and Clash of the Titans, but his emotional range is limited and his facial expressions look stilted.

The movie overall is a mixed bag, with Madden creating some incredibly suspenseful scenes, aided by composer Thomas Newman’s propulsive score, while letting others drag on too long after the “Cut!” point. Tighter editing would’ve ratcheted up the tension, which is also diluted by the fact we’ve seen these characters in 1997 so we know they survive the mission. But there are a couple of twists I didn’t see coming, and in the end, with its questions about whether the truth can do more harm than lies, at least it left me thinking, which is more than most summer movies manage to do.

Nerd verdict: Debt not a complete payoff but worth getting into

Photos: Laurie Sparham

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