Short Takes

This week’s reviews in brief

September 7, 2013 

“Necessary Errors,” by Caleb Crain.

Fiction

Necessary Errors

Caleb Crain, Penguin, 472 pages

They say that Prague in the 1990s was akin to Paris in the 1920s – or the 1890s, for that matter. Thus it’s appropriate that critic and journalist Caleb Crain chose the Czech capital circa 1990 as the setting for his modern-day expatriate novel, “Necessary Errors.”

The novel, Crain’s first, follows Jacob Putnam – young, recently out of the closet and recently graduated from college – as he arrives in Prague during the transition between Soviet-enforced communism and capitalistic independence. Jacob, who harbors vague ambitions to become a writer, befriends his fellow English-speaking ex-pats, makes rent teaching English to the locals and drinks his share of pivo in the city’s pubs and cafes.

With its characters’ earnest longing for self-definition, the comedy and sorrow of their falling in love with the wrong people and the number of scenes set in bars, the novel certainly evokes a “Sun Also Rises” vibe. But Crain’s long, elegant sentences, meandering metaphors and omniscient point of view also owe a debt to Henry James, the premodern stylist whom Ernest Hemingway ostensibly rejected.

Jacob (an echo of Hemingway’s Jake Barnes?) falls in with a motherly Brit, Melinda, an affectionate Irishwoman, Annie, and a boisterous Scot, Thom. And we fall in with them, too. Reading the novel feels like meeting up with friends in a well-worn routine made more comforting by the knowledge that it must come to an end.

One of the book’s best qualities is that evocation of what it’s like to live abroad: the double sense of boredom and adventure, the self-searching, the isolation and the easy camaraderie that comes with being alone in a place where they don’t speak your language.

Christine Pivovar, Kansas City Star

Good as Gone

Douglas Corleone, Minotaur, 304 pages

Simon Fisk, the hero of Douglas Corleone’s new series, could easily be a cousin of Jack Reacher.

Like Reacher, the hero of Lee Child’s best-selling novels, Simon is a loner constantly on the move, with a background in law enforcement and a penchant for coming to the rescue of those in need.

And like Child, Corleone delivers an adrenalin-fueled plot with believable, complex characters. Reacher and Simon could indeed be cousins, but each is a distinct character. As “Good as Gone” proves, Corleone shapes Simon with a unique personality and background, intriguing enough to maintain a long-running series.

A former U.S. Marshal, Simon has found a niche as a private contractor, finding and rescuing children kidnapped by their own estranged parents or other relatives. As Simon knows all too well, most of these parent-kidnappings are done not out of love but because of revenge, greed and even perversion.

Simon’s one rule is that he refuses to investigate stranger kidnappings. But rules are made to be broken, as he shows in “Good as Gone.” Corleone seamlessly weaves in Simon’s haunted background, which includes the unsolved kidnapping of his own daughter more than 16 years before, without slowing down the action.

Oline H. Cogdill, Sun Sentinel

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