Short Takes

Short takes: Book reviews, in brief

September 14, 2013 

Fiction

I Married the Duke

Katharine Ashe, Avon, 384 pages

All it took was a few pages of prologue to hook readers on Katharine Ashe’s new series, “The Prince Catchers.” By the first chapter, you’ll be dying to know who the parents of the three orphaned girls are, and to unravel the mystery of their past. Unfortunately, you’ll not have any of those questions answered in this book. What you do get in this opening tale is two strong characters whose love volley is mostly engaging and entertaining.

The story is intriguing and will keep you riveted beyond the final page. It takes mere minutes to become completely invested in the outcome, not just of Arabella and Luc’s tale, but of the entire series.

Arabella is delightful, a strong, witty, intelligent and unflappable heroine perfectly suited for Luc. Of course it takes them awhile to figure out all the confusion and unease they feel around each other is love, and that is often as frustrating for the reader as it is the characters. Luc and Arabelle’s love is slow to be acknowledged in agonizing fashion, and while Luc does make a rather nice declaration at the end, there are many circumstances that could have developed into grand romantic moments that fizzled just short. For example, Arabella and her sisters survived a shipwreck as children and, understandably, Arabella is terrified of the sea. Yet she embarks on an ocean voyage with Luc. Don’t eagerly await Luc discovering her fear, the reason behind it and coming to her rescue in gallant fashion. It doesn’t quite happen that way.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

The Maid’s Version

Daniel Woodrell, Little, Brown, 164 pages.

Daniel Woodrell can pack more story, truth and human emotion into 164 pages than most writers can in three times the pages. “The Maid’s Version” was inspired by an explosion that destroyed a dance hall in West Plains, Mo., in the 1920s, killing dozens of young people.

Woodrell tells his fictionalized version through the memories of Alma DeGeer Dunahew as she gradually reveals facts, rumors and suspicions to her grandson. Alma thinks the rich banker she once worked for as a maid deliberately caused the explosion that killed, among others, her promiscuous sister. But other characters, including mobsters, local gypsies and a preacher who saw the dance hall as a den of iniquity, provide a host of plausible suspects.

“The Maid’s Version” is a superbly textured novel about a community coping with tragedy and poisoned by suspicions and festering anger. It is a novel about memory and about growing old. And it is also an exploration of the nature of storytelling itself.

Woodrell tells his story partly through the colloquial voices of its Ozark characters and partly through narration that manages to be both hard-boiled and richly poetic. Readers will be reminded once again why critics so often compare him to William Faulkner and Cormac McCarthy.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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