Sunday, July 2, 2023

Books: New Novels From Bonnie Kistler & Patrick deWitt


Her, Too

By Bonnie Kistler

Harper Paperbacks; paperback, 320 pages; $18.99; available Tuesday, July 4th

Bonnie Kistler is a former Philadelphia trial lawyer, whose first novel, The Cage, was published in 2022. She was born and raised in the horse country of Pennsylvania and attended Bryn Mawr College, where she graduated magna cum laude with Honors in English literature. She then received her law degree from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, where she was a moot court champion and legal writing instructor.

Kistler's new book is a thriller, Her, Too, and it is about a group of women who take back their power with one question at the center of the story, Why would a woman lawyer defend an accused serial rapist?

Criminal attorney Kelly McCann is a fighter, as she fought to build a successful legal career, fought for the special needs of her family, and tirelessly fought for her clients. She specializes defending men accused of sex crimes, and she maintains they're falsely accused.

Kelly's detractors call her a traitor to her gender, but she doesn't care. Simply put, she loves to win, and as the story unfolds, she has done it again as she secured an acquittal for a renowned scientist accused of sexually assaulting his female employees.

The thrill of that victory is short-lives, as that very night, she herself is the victim of a brutal sexual assault. Almost as horrific as the attack is that she can't tell anyone it happened, at least not without destroying her career in the process.

However, Kelly has never backed down from a fifth and she isn't about to start pulling her punches now. She joins forces with her rapist's other victims as apart of the shrewd lawyer's plans to turn the tables on him.

This is not just about justice; these wronged women are in search of revenge. With that, someone is out for them, and one by one, they find themselves facing even greater danger.


Wednesday, July 12th at 7:00 p.m.: Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont, Pennsylvania - Bonnie Kistler will be in conversation with Wendy Walker, author of What Remains. Click here to find out how to participate.

Wednesday, August 9th at 7:00 p.m.: Cuyahoga Public Library - a conversation with Bonnie Kistler. Click here for all you need to know.

The Librarianist

By Patrick deWitt

Ecco; hardcover, 336 pages; $30.00; available Tuesday, July 4th

Patrick deWitt is a the author of the novels French Exit, which was a national bestseller; The Sisters Brothers, which was short-listed for the Booker Prize and a New York Times bsestseller; and the critically acclaimed Undermajordomo Minor and Ablutions.

The Librarianist is deWitt's new novel, and it centers on Bob Comet, a retired librarian who passes his solitary days surrounded by books and small comforts in a mint-colored home in Portland, Oregon. 

One morning, while on his daily walk, Bob encounters a confused elderly woman lost in a market and returns her to where she lives, the Gambell-Reed Senior Center. That gives him hope of filling the void he's had since retiring, and he begins volunteering at the center. 

A community of strange peers gathers around Bob, and following a happenstance brush with a painful complication from his past, the events of his life and the details of his character are revealed. 

Bob has a straight-man facade, but what lurks behind that is the story of an unhappy child's runaway adventure during the last days of the Second World War, of true love won and stolen away, of the purpose and pride found in the librarian's vocation, and of the pleasures of a life lived to the side of the masses.

The experiences Bob has are imbued with melancholy, but there is also a bright, sustained comedy, as he has a talent for locating bizarre and outsize players to welcome onto the stage of his life.

One thing that rings true while reading this wide-ranging and ambitious document of the introvert's condition is that The Librarianist celebrates the extraordinary in the so-called ordinary life, and depicts beautifully the turbulence that sometimes exists beneath a surface of serenity.

In this excerpt, deWitt writes of Bob making the decision to get involved: "Bob telephoned the American Volunteer Association the next morning and later in the week received a packet in the mail, color brochures featuring pictures of glad seniors, glad people in wheelchairs. The text was highly praiseful and petting of Bob's decision to lend a hand, but there was hitch, which was that he had to be vetted before the AVA welcomed him officially into the fold. Saturday morning and he drove to a storefront on Broadway that specialized in such things as passport photos and notarizations and fingerprints, the last being what he was after. His prints were sent off to what he imagined was a subterranean robot cityscape, a bunker database where they kept the shit list under dense glass, to check his history for uncommon cruelties, irregular moralities. He didn't expect there to be an issue and there wasn't, but he did feel a doubt reminiscent of his experience of passing through the exit barriers at the pharmacy and wondering if the security alarm would sound even he'd not stolen anything. 

Bob had not been particularly good or bad in his life. Like many, like most, he rode the center line, not going out of his way to perform damage against the undeserving but never arcing toward helping the deserving, either. Why now, then? He himself didn't know for certain. The night before his official visit to the center he dreamed he arrived and was greeted in the same garrulous, teasing manner as the man with the big beret had been. The scene of group acceptance was heady, but when Bob stepped into the center the next morning no one acknowledged his presence. 'Hello,' he said, but nobody so much as glanced at him, and he understood he was going to have to work his way toward visibility, to earn the right to be seen by these people, which he believed was fair, and correct.

Bob sought out Maria, who sat talking on the phone in her small, untidy office. She pointed Bob toward the rear of the Great Room and gave him a goodwill thumbs-up; soon he was standing at a podium before an audience of twenty souls. He briefly introduced himself and the chosen text; since this first appearance took place some days before Halloween, he'd decided to begin with a short story by Edgar Allan Poe, 'The Black Cat.' The reading was going well enough when on page three the cat had its eye cut out with a penknife by its owner, and third of Bob's small audience left the room. On page four, the same unlucky cat was strung up by its neck and hung from the branch of a tree, and now the rest of the crowd stood to go. After the room emptied out a muttering janitor came in with a hand truck and began folding and stacking the chairs. Maria approached Bob with an I-told-you-so expression on her face. 'I told you so,' she said.

Bob walked home through the October weather. A stream of leaves funneled down the road and pulled him toward his mint-colored house, the location of his life, the place where he passed through time, passed through rooms. The house rested in the bend of a quiet cul-de-sac, and it was a comfort for him whenever he came upon it. It didn't reflect worldly success, but it was well made and comfortably furnished and well taken care of. It was a hundred-off years old, and his mother had purchased it from the man who'd built it. The man had gone blind in his later years and affixed every interior wall with a length of thick and bristly nautical rope run through heavy bras eyelets positioned at waist level to guide him to the kitchen, to the bathroom, the bedroom, up the stairs and down, all the way to the workshop in the basement. After this person died and the property changed hands, Bob's mother did not remove the rope, less an aesthetic choice than obliviousness; and when she died and Bob inherited the house, he too left the rope in place. It was frayed here and there, and he sometimes banged his hip on the eyelets, but he enjoyed the detail for its history, enjoyed the sight of it, enjoyed the rope's prickliness as it ran through his hand.

He returned the Poe paperback to its place on the paperback shelf. He had been amassing books since preadolescence and there were filled shelves in half the rooms in the house, tidy towers of books in the halls. Connie, who had been Bob's wife, had sometimes asked him why he read quite so much as he did. She believed Bob was reading beyond the accepted level of personal pleasure and wondered if it wasn't symptomatic of a spiritual or emotional deformity. Bob thought her true question was, Why do you read rather than live?"

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