Aside Posted on Updated on
May 29, 2014 FACE VALUE by Michael Kahn will be available starting Tuesday, June 3rd, 2014. 260 pages, Poisoned Pen Press.
Familiar faces, places fill Kahn’s latest thriller
By: Lora Wegman
May 29, 2014
What puts a chill up your spine? Murder? Financial deception? Toiling at a big law firm?
If it’s all three, you’ll likely enjoy “Face Value,” St. Louis attorney Michael Kahn’s latest legal thriller.
Kahn, of counsel at Capes, Sokol, Goodman & Sarachan in St. Louis, has been writing the Rachel Gold mystery series for more than two decades. “Face Value” is the ninth installment. The title refers to the novel’s intriguing premise: What if you could catch a killer by reading facial expressions, down to the smallest tells?
The thing is, as this story sets out, there’s no apparent evidence that there even is a killer. A big-firm associate named Sari — a former law clerk for our protagonist Rachel — falls from the eighth floor of a downtown St. Louis parking garage, and her death is ruled a suicide. The mystery comes in after the memorial service, when a co-worker tells Rachel he believes Sari was murdered.
The co-worker, a mailroom employee named Stanley, isn’t relying on mere instinct. Stanley has Asperger’s, and while socially challenged, he’s a genius who has taught himself to read emotions by analyzing minute facial expressions. He’s convinced Sari wasn’t depressed, just agitated, and wouldn’t have jumped.
Rachel, Stanley and others embark on a quiet investigation to figure out who at the law firm has something to hide. This involves the creation of an elaborate video tribute to the victim, requiring recorded interviews of seemingly everyone at the firm so their reactions can be put under Stanley’s mental microscope.
The execution of this project gives Kahn the opportunity to paint some unflattering but amusing peripheral characters. Take for instance, the introduction of the unfortunately named Dick Neeler, a firm partner/marketing flack:
Neeler was, in short, the perfect tool for getting the law firm’s higher-ups to approve the Sari Bashir tribute video proposal. Better yet, he was sufficiently clueless to serve as the figurehead for the project without ever suspecting any ulterior motive.
“This is super,” Neeler said. “A beautiful homage to her and, frankly, a terrific opportunity for the firm. … This really hits a home run with our diversity goals, too. A tribute for an Arab associate. Like, wowie wow wow, eh?”
“She was an American citizen,” I said.
“Sure, but she was also Muslim. Allah and all that nutty stuff. It works.”
The whole video tribute thing feels a little far-fetched — surely this would require a prohibitive amount of money and effort — but it’s a convenient plot device that lets the story get on with the face analyzing.
This story is less of a thriller than a personality assessment exercise. There are few scenes that are truly tense or harrowing, although the story builds to its climax in typical mystery-novel fashion and doesn’t disappoint.
We don’t get much of the recently widowed Rachel’s personal life in this installment. There are a few scenes of her interacting with her young son and her mother, but Kahn seems to forgo deeper character development in favor of keeping the mystery plot moving. This makes for a quickly paced story but not much in the way of emotional connection.
Missourians, especially attorneys, should enjoy Kahn’s depictions of places and people, and anyone who’s spent time in St. Louis will appreciate the use of real-life settings — Washington University, Soldiers’ Memorial, the Women’s Exchange, and the Bellerive and St. Louis country clubs, to name just a few.
If you haven’t read Kahn’s previous novels, it’s not a problem to jump into the series at this point. There are references to previous happenings — for instance, Rachel and longtime pal Benny reminisce about the bizarre case of Graham Marshall, which longtime readers will remember from the first book in the series — but those slide into the current story without need of background knowledge.
“Face Value” by Michael Kahn will be available starting Tuesday. 260 pages, Poisoned Pen Press.
“I haven’t had a suspense novel surprise me like this one in a long time. Joël Dicker is a bright new star of suspense, and he proves his serious chops with this utterly thrilling, delightfully twisted, continually shocking novel. I can’t wait to read what he writes next!” —Lisa Gardner, #1 New York Times bestselling author of Fear Nothing“A dazzling thriller—stunningly original and brilliantly plotted, down to the very last twists. It’s a murder mystery, a literary puzzle, and a love story, all ingeniously woven into a masterly novel of suspense. Joël Dicker is an enormous talent, and this book is extraordinary.” —Linda Fairstein, New York Times bestselling author of Death Angel
“Talk about a web of treason and danger: This one unfolds with a relentless sense of urgency and pulse-pounding escapades, entertaining at every turn. Absolutely rousing.” —Steve Berry, New York Times bestselling author of The King’s Deception
“Planes, trains and automobiles: You’ll see people reading this book everywhere. An amazing debut and wonderful summer read from a writer to watch.” —Michael Harvey, bestselling author of The Chicago Way
“The great American crime novel . . . A breakneck thriller.” —Details
“Entertainingly pulled off . . . Enjoyable . . . It churns along at such a good clip and is rendered with such high emotion and apparent deep conviction that it’s easy to see why it was a bestseller in Europe. It’s likely to be one in this country, too.” —The Washington Post
“A wonderful, fun, and boisterous read, a book with an uncanny ability to both fascinate and amuse you. Twists and turns and oddball characters make this a rollicking bullet-train of a novel.” —Amazon.com, Best Book of the Month
“An ambitious, multilayered novel of suspense . . . This tale of fame, friendship, loyalty, and fiction versus reality moves at warp speed.” —Publishers Weekly, starred review
“This sprawling, likable whodunit [is] obvious ballast for the summer’s beach totes. . . . Dicker keeps the prose simple and the pace snappy in a plot that winds up with more twists than a Twizzler. . . . [An] entertaining debut thriller.” —Kirkus Reviews
“Tantalizing . . . Compelling . . . There is a Twin Peaks–like fascination to the story of Nola Kellergan. . . . Readers are certain to be caught up in the ongoing drama of who killed Nola among the plethora of suspects.” —Booklist
“The cleverest, creepiest book you’ll read this year . . . The most talked-about French novel of the decade . . . Breathtakingly plotted . . . Addictively fast . . . It’s like Twin Peaks meets Atonement meets In Cold Blood. . . . The New England setting [is] immersively convincing. . . . Very few foreign-language novels make big waves in Anglophone countries, but this one seems genuinely likely to buck the trend.” —The Telegraph
“Spellbinding . . . a top-class literary thriller . . . It is maddeningly, deliciously impossible to guess the truth.” —The Times
“A phenomenon . . . A page-turner . . . Compulsively easy to read.” —The Observer
“With enough plot twists to fill a truck, it is a racy read. . . . Part master-and-disciple tale, part whodunnit, Mr. Dicker’s thriller is also a postmodern confabulation of timelines and stories, in the manner of Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life.” —The Economist
“[An] In Cold Blood–style investigation of a Twin Peaks–like town . . . A smart, immensely readable, impressively plotted page-turner [that] keeps the surprises coming right up to the closing pages. . . . An immersive, propulsive, continually wrongfooting twister of a tale, it should delight any reader who has felt bereft since finishing Gone Girl, or Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy.” —Metro
“The tale is expertly told. . . . An accomplished thriller.” —The Independent
“Dicker has the first-rate crime novelist’s ability to lead his readers up the garden path. . . . An excellent story.” —Sunday Express
“[It] does well . . . what all good thrillers should: it twists and turns. . . . [It] has the pleasing spryness of one of Jessica Fletcher’s outings [in Murder, She Wrote]. . . . Just like a [Harlan] Coben novel, it’s very enjoyable.” —The Guardian
“A scintillating, page-turning debut . . . Expertly paced . . . tautly written . . . A powerful novel about passion, jealousy, family, redemption, friendship and love, The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair is a Great American Novel—written by a European.” —The Bookseller
“Fabulous, clever stuff . . . This extraordinary thriller . . . grabs you, its characters so intriguingly flawed and pulsating that you simply can’t stop reading. . . . The real genius of this work is in its incredible construction, diving forwards and backwards with multiple storytellers.” —The Australian Women’s Weekly
“If you dip your toes into this major novel, you’re finished: you won’t be able to keep from sprinting through to the last page. You will be manipulated, thrown off course, flabbergasted and amazed by the many twists and turns, red herrings and sudden changes of direction in this exuberant story.” —Le Journal du Dimanche
“A funny, intelligent, breathtaking book within a book . . . There is a real joy in discovering this extraordinary novel.” —Lire
“A master stroke . . . A crime novel with not one plot line but many, full of shifting rhythms, changes of course and multiple layers that, like a Russian doll, slot together beautifully . . . In maestro form, Dicker alternates periods and genres (police reports, interviews, excerpts from novels) and explores America in all its excesses—media, literary, religious—all the while questioning the role of the literary writer.” —L’Express
“The success story of the literary season . . . An American thriller reminiscent of the best work of Truman Capote.” —Paris-Match
“Dizzying, like the best American thrillers . . . Rich in subplots and twists, moving backwards and forwards in time, containing books within books.” —Le Figaro
“After The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair, the contemporary novel will no longer be the same. Verdict: summa cum laude. . . . A beautiful novel.” —Corriere della Sera
“Narrative talent is about making a work of art out of life. Dicker has got it.” —Vanity Fair
“A book within a book, a crime novel, a love story. Extraordinary.” —Cosmopolitan
“Brilliantly narrated.” —Stern
“A novel with all the ingredients of a global bestseller.” —Die Zeit
“A story brimming with such intelligence and subtlety that you can only regret that it has to end. A novel that works on so many levels: a crime story, a love story, a comedy of manners, but equally an incisive critique of the art of the modern author.” —Elsevier
“A novel that calls to mind the journalistic investigations of Truman Capote, the murder plots of Donna Tartt and the romantic scandal of Nabakov’s Lolita.” —NRC NEXT
“Packed with action, psychological drama and . . . extraordinary suspense.” —NRC Handelsblad
“Captivating and enchanting . . . a true literary adventure.” —Algemeen Dagblad
“Wonderful dialogue, colorful characters, breathtaking twists and a plot that allows no pause for breath . . . Everything is perfectly woven together to create an irresistible story in which absolutely nothing is as it seems.” —Trouw
“Never have I felt so compelled to recommend a book this highly. . . . I was mesmerized and fascinated long after I had finished reading. . . . It has echoes of Twin Peaks and Death on the Staircase, John Grisham, Psycho, The Exorcist, and The Hotel New Hampshire by John Irving.” —La Vanguardia
“This book will be celebrated and studied by future writers. It is a model thriller.” —El Periódico de Catalunya
“Masterful . . . The great thriller that everyone has been waiting for since the Millennium Trilogy of Stieg Larsson.” —El Cultural de El Mundo
A captivating novel of enduring and unexpected love from New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice
THE LEMON ORCHARD
Poisoned Pen Bookstore
Saturday, May 31st, 2014
New York Times bestselling author Luanne Rice returns this summer with an enchanting new novel, THE LEMON ORCHARD,which tells the unexpected love story of two people from different worlds who share an incredible bond (Penguin Books; On-sale: May 27, 2014; ISBN: 978-0-14-312556-3; $16.00).
It has been five years since Julia visited her aunt and uncle’s lemon orchard in Malibu and in that time Julia’s world has been turned upside down by her daughter’s death. When Julia arrives to housesit, she finds their home and the grove are just as breathtaking as she remembered. A virtual hermit, Julia expects to pass her time in Malibu quietly, with her dog Bonnie as her sole companion, but before long, she finds herself powerfully drawn to the handsome man who oversees the lemon orchard.
Roberto appreciates his job at the grove—it is good, steady work that allows him to support his father in California, as well as his extended family back in Mexico. He expertly tends the orchard but his obsession for his daughter who was lost during their crossing from Mexico preys upon his mind. Consumed by the weight of a terrible secret, Roberto finds a confidant in Julia—this small, pale woman with silver hair and arresting blue eyes—haunted by her own heartbreaking past.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR LUANNE RICE is the New York Times bestselling author of thirty-one novels that have been translated into twenty-four languages. The author of Little Night, The Silver Boat and Beach Girls, Rice’s books often center on love, family, nature and the sea. Rice is an avid naturalist and bird-watcher and is involved with Georgetown University Law Center’s Domestic Violence Clinic. Born in New Britain, Connecticut, Rice divides her time between New York City and Southern California.
Interview will be held at The Poisoned Pen Bookstore on June 12th by Christopher Reich.
A Conversation with Joël Dicker
Q: Your website says that you wrote The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair because you wanted to try your hand at an “American novel.” Did you simply mean “set in America” or something else?
A: I simply wanted to place a work of fiction in a New England setting, a place I know well. Very quickly I realized that I was so familiar with the US that I could allow myself to create an American town with American characters. Actually, this book helped me discover a part of myself: that I could surpass my origins and my writing language, and recreate a part of the United States in French.
Q: What do you love most about this book, and what do you hope that your American readers will love about it?
A: What I like best about the book is the New England atmosphere, which reminds me of my childhood summers. While writing it, I was consulting my own happy memories on a daily basis. For 25 years now, I’ve spent one or two months a year in North America. Because of this, I really feel that I know America from the inside. I hope that my American readers will also feel at home, and will grant me the privilege of being accepted as an author who writes about America without being American myself.
Q: The structure of the book—the switches between perspectives and time periods, the reverse numbering of the chapters, etc.—adds to the mystery narrative. Why did you choose to structure the book this way?
A: It’s a countdown. I like the fact that the reader will know how many chapters are left before the end. When I watch a film, I like to know how long it will last in order to know where I am. Am I in the middle of the film, or near the end? When a book has chronological chapters, you never know how many chapters are left until the end. In my book, I wanted my reader to be able to know.
I wanted to entertain my readers, and give them a moment of pleasure in their busy lives. It’s a big book! So if readers are stressed about how many pages or chapters are left, that takes away from the pleasure of reading. If you know where you are in the intrigue, you can concentrate on each chapter instead of wondering when it will end.
Q: This is only your second novel, and already it’s a major bestseller in Europe. Could you talk about what inspired you to write this book?
A: I wanted to write a story about a teacher-student relationship, about the transmission of values from one person to another. Marcus and Harry were the first characters I created for this novel. Then I decided to create a universe around them, and that’s when I imagined the town of Somerset.
Q: Many writers fall victim to what’s called the sophomore slump. You did just the opposite and wrote a second book that was even more successful than your first. Did you—like your characters—experience a long period of writer’s block before you began Harry Quebert? Did you have any inkling that you had written a million-plus-copy bestseller?
A: No, luckily I’ve never had writers’ block. Sometimes I have doubts, as there are always lots of questions that arise while a book evolves, but I’ve never had a block. Doubt is good: it makes us re-examine ourselves and allows our work to progress. So no, I never thought this book would be a bestseller, because of my doubts. In fact, I was wondering who amongst my friends would accept to read such a long manuscript all the way to the end!
Q: It’s impossible to read Harry Quebert without thinking of Lolita. How much—if at all—were you conscious of Nabokov’s novel while writing your own?
A: The LOLITA image came to me late. I was well into writing the book when I decided that Harry’s character would have a relationship with a young girl. In my head I immediately made the link to LOLITA, from which came my reference N-O-L-A, like L-O-L-I-T-A. However, having read LOLITA when I was 15, I had an image which was much more naïve than the image that hit me straight in the face when I re-read the book a few months ago. I realized that we evolve with books, and that reading LOLITA at age 15 or at age 29 is a different experience.
Q: What about Marcus and Harry inspired you to create the very specific environment of Somerset around them?
A:I created Somerset before creating Marcus and Harry. I wanted to convey the atmosphere of small-town New England to my European readers, so I created the “character” of Somerset before creating the people.
Q: Like you, the novel’s narrator is a young, attractive, and incredibly successful author. Do the parallels between Marcus Goldman and Joël Dicker go any deeper?
A: No, not at all. There is a little bit of me in each character. That’s normal, since I’m the one who created them. But besides our common love of running, there is no more Marcus in me than there is Harry, Jenny, Tamara, Robert or Gahalowood.
Q: The central mystery of the novel—what happened to Nola Kellergan?—is extremely compelling. Why do you feel that mystery stories are so popular? As a European author with a mystery set in America, what differences—if any—have you noticed between European and American mysteries?
A: The truth is, I never read crime novels, so it’s impossible for me to compare how they’re written in different countries. As for the mystery of what happened to Nola, what happened to her is obviously terrible, but it’s also a “banal” crime. How many children disappear in the world every day? I didn’t want to tell a story just about a crime, but rather a story about banality in its most sordid aspects. I think that mystery novels are so popular because an investigation is guided by the principle of curiosity, and curiosity is what pushes us forward. We are all curious–that’s part of human nature.
Q: You are Swiss but your book is set in New England and the American dialogue is entirely convincing. Have you visited New Hampshire and are there any particular places there that you like? What do you like about them?
A: I am from Geneva, Switzerland. It’s a beautiful place but with natural barriers on three sides: the lake, and two mountain ranges. So when I was a kid, driving through those long stretches of trees really impressed me.
I love the Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine area. I’ve been going there every summer for 25 years, and I know the area like home. I spent a lot of time in the town of Stonington, Maine, in particular. I also like the town of Bar Harbor, Maine, and in my book, I modeled the town of Somerset on the layout of Bar Harbor.
My cousins, who live in Washington, DC, have a house in Stonington, Maine, so going there just came naturally ever since my childhood. How many times I’ve crossed New England, specifically Massachusetts and New Hampshire, to get to Stonington! Because of that, I put those places in my book in order to share them with my readers in Europe, to show them some of the regions and settings that live within me.
Q: Fiction about academics—both professors and students—is very popular now. Why do you think that these stories are so popular, and why did you choose to have your novel’s two main characters be a professor and his student?
A: Probably because students have the world in front of them: they are choosing their own road, their path, their destiny. Students still have their destiny in their own hands. This is not the case with professors, who in general have already settled into their chosen career. I think that this situation–having your destiny in your own hands or having chosen and accepted your destiny–is something that we all experiment with at some point in our lives, because we eventually fall on one side or the other. It’s a universal experience, one to which everyone can relate.
Q: You make very real the experience of daily life in a small, close-knit community. Did you base any of the characters or episodes on people in your own life?
A: No, this is a very important rule for me. Never mix reality with fiction. And the pleasure of writing a book is to invent scenes and characters. Reproducing something which I’ve already lived doesn’t interest me at all.
Q: In the book you write about the process of publishing a book (writers’ block, agents, editors, public response, etc.), which adds a fascinating, potentially self-referential element to the narrative. Why did you choose to write about writing, and what do you feel it contributes to the story?
A: I wanted to speak about writing because I wanted to use the first person “I” to give strength to the narration, but I was afraid of falling into writing a fictionalized autobiography. By choosing an author who is older than I, and with a completely different life from mine, I tried to give credibility to this “I,” while distancing myself as much as possible in order to be a veritable storyteller and not simply tell a story from my little daily life.
Q: You began your writing career early and founded a nature magazine when you were only ten. But then you went to law school before returning to writing. Why the detour?
A: Because I also wanted to study, and to get a diploma. There are no creative writing courses in Switzerland or France, and the Humanities Department at the university didn’t interest me. I’ve always liked law. For me, it wasn’t a detour. I like variety.
Q: Harry Quebert, the title character, is a great writer. His student, Marcus Goldman, wants to become one. What great writers do you admire, and why? How have they influenced your own writing?
A: Romain Gary is my favorite author. His work and his story touch me more than anyone else’s. He hadan incredible life story which is common knowledge in Europe: he won the Goncourt prize twice, but once under a pseudonym which wasn’t discovered until after his death. He was married to the American actress Jean Seberg and he wrote a lot about race relations in the U.S. in the 1960s.
Marguerite Duras, because I like her style. You get the impression that there’s not one word too many, that her sentences are perfect constructions, as if each word were a brick and if you took one out the whole work would fall apart.
John Steinbeck, because Of Mice and Men is the first book that literally bowled me over. Of Mice and Men is a true lesson of what the narrative force of a story should be. With few words, and with lots of allusions and hidden meanings, Steinbeck leads us across landscapes, a story, tension, and the distress of his characters. Steinbeck knows to go beyond words, and I think that’s exactly where storytelling resides: in the unspoken.
Philip Roth, because he is probably the greatest contemporary writer. Reading his work, you retrace the story of America of the last 50 years.
Dostoyevsky, because he’s the first author I read who made me understand the importance of narration in a novel. To open one of his novels is to enter a world completely.
Q: The novel has an incredibly cinematic feel. How would you feel about it being turned into a movie?
A: Excited obviously, because the movie world is very exciting. But worried at the same time: books are better than movies. The imagination is free, time is unlimited, and characters take the face you lend them. Cinema is not free: the film’s length is limited, you have to cut so it fits into two hours, and the characters faces are set as the actors’ faces who play them.
Q: What are you working on now?
A: I’m working on a new novel. I prefer not to talk about it, because that’s my fun, and my freedom, to be the only one to know for the moment. I think it’s a pity to talk about the book you’re in the middle of writing: you deprive yourself of a rare and precious moment of freedom.