Please check out my Works page for my other titles, excerpts and links to my essays and reviews at The Millions and The Nervous Breakdown.
It’s a Friday afternoon in October 1970, on a college campus in western Pennsylvania, and Nick Copeland is quietly going out of his mind. On the brink of throwing himself out the window, he decides instead to summon the student next door, Rob Johnson, to help him through his crisis, and shortly afterwards, now fast friends bonded over Nick’s altogether outstandingly final LSD trip, they undertake a risky drug deal in Cincinnati, purchasing six-hundred dollars’ worth of low-grade, utterly unsellable pot that they eventually trade for what they believe is high-grade heroin. Which, of course, they can’t sell, either.
Cut to thirty years later.
Once-successful advertising executive Nick Copeland runs into once-fairly successful attorney Rob Johnson at a jobs fair in Manhattan. Nick has a family and a house and a lifestyle he fears he’s on the brink of losing; Rob has already lost his wife and his job, and sees nothing ahead of him in this economy except for endless nights of basic cable and take-out Chinese. Two men on the fast track to oblivion.
Over drinks, they reminisce about their heady college days, until it occurs to them that the answer to their troubles may be lying in wait for them: two airtight jars full of the white powder they’d ended up burying on the outskirts of their old college campus, which in this market might be worth a few million. They can go back during Homecoming Weekend, dig up the jars and sell them in New York City to someone connected to one of Rob’s former clients, now serving a long sentence for narcotics possession in Attica prison. It’s the answer to all their problems.
By returning to their old college—a journey back to the heady, reckless times of their youth—they not only retrieve the two jars, but, for Nick at least, there’s a return to memory, to decisions made and regretted. But this is also a crime story, and as they're preparing to sell the dope, the man Rob thought was doing time steps forth to clinch the deal. But is he what he claims to be? Or have they unsuspectingly walked into a plot devised by the police?
“Old pals Nick and Rob are headin’ back to college. But not to resume their studies: they're pushing 50 now, with careers and families, and they’re both unemployed, laid off from well-paying jobs. Then one of them remembers an episode from their younger, more adventurous days, when they were known, occasionally, to partake of some not-entirely-legal substances. It turns out they know where to find two mason jars of a definitely illegal substance buried on their old college campus. The plan: dig the stuff up, sell it, make a quick profit. The plan’s execution: well, let’s just say it doesn’t go entirely—or even mostly—as they thought it would. Like Donald Westlake’s The Ax
(1997), which features an out-of-work family man driven by desperation to find an extreme solution to his problem, Smith’s novel depends on the reader’s willingness to accept that an ordinary person will do some very uncharacteristic things to keep his life from imploding. A solidly constructed and nicely written comic thriller.”
In this haunting and sensual story, first published in 1995, the violent death of a psychiatrist sends his wife on a journey into her hidden self.
Jill Bowman, a Boston-based historian and professor, is engaged in research on the London Plague of 1665. Her life has long been bounded by academic obligations, responsibility for her autistic daughter, and life with her husband, Dr. Peter Freytag. Breathless opens with the discovery of his body in a seedy hotel room. But the real intricacies of the story that unfolds are those of Jill herself and her struggles with Peter’s sudden death, the secrets it reveals, and the shadowy parts of her own life.
Although Breathless gives the reader an exceptionally intimate and comprehensive view of Jill’s life, it also becomes the story of her relationship with the detective in charge of her husband’s case, David Resnick.
For breathlessness can be as much a condition of passion as it is of death. Love as a virus, love in a time of plague, the mystery and danger of desire: these are some of the themes of Breathless, a novel of compelling simplicity and astonishing power.
In this Barnes & Noble Discover Title, first published in 1992, 17th Century Netherlands intertwines with present-day America as novelist David Reid attempts to decipher the mystery of his wife’s sudden death through the paintings of Vermeer. Was it suicide? An accident? Murder? Was Kate leaving him for another man, or was she on her way back to him? Searching for the truth, David becomes entangled in a web of deception and betrayal only to face the difficult question: How much do we really know about those we love? Or are they like the women glimpsed in Kate’s beloved Vermeer’s paintings, somehow beyond understanding?
Following the disappearance of his wife Honnie, with no idea whether she has left him or been abducted, Adam Füst returns to work as assistant to a controversial Hungarian film director now based in France.
At first it appears Adam will be able to go on with his life; but with the help of Cuvillier, a brilliant but amoral cop, Adam pours over the shards of his past five years with Honnie, only to discover how macabre her life had become. In search of his wife, Adam enters a Paris of nightclubs and gothic eroticism, a world which repulses him even as it draws him inwards.
Honnie remains a haunting absence at the center of this novel first published in 1989, until one evening at dusk, the blue hour, this modern version of the Orpheus myth finds Adam descending into the underworld to rescue the love of his life.
After fleeing to Paris to escape communist rule, Polish émigré piano player Jerzy Wozzeck finds it impossible to support his family on his gigs. So when a friend offers a fat payoff for handling a string of deliveries, Jerzy quickly finds himself in the uneasy employ of an anonymous suit and his sensual assistant. With a couple of flawless jobs under his belt, Jerzy starts living the good life—until, on one such run, he stumbles across a corpse and realizes his benefactors will go to any lengths to protect their operations, including selling his soul piece by piece to maintain his illusion of prosperity. But when rival crime lords and hit men enter the fray, Jerzy plots to escape his boss’s dirty dealings—only to discover he’s in too deep to get out alive. First published in 1987.
For years, Alex Ostroff churns out unsuccessful, unpublished manuscripts. His rejection is complete when he’s rebuffed by London’s literary set. His exasperated literary agent encourages Alex to write what he knows, but the writer is loathe to reveal anything about himself. Alex follows the advice, however, mining his childhood for material.
The son of Russian expatriates, Alex has a compelling past. His parents, glamorous figures living in France under assumed names, worked with a shadowy Frenchman named Felix Dumont in a mysterious import-export business that involved fraud, forgery, blackmail, and murder. Drawing from these memories, Alex’s new novel, Troika, finally lands the struggling author some acclaim.
As his writing career—and the media’s fascination with him—gathers steam, Alex questions much of what his parents have told him. And when he unexpectedly encounters Dumont in London, he learns the dark facts lurking behind the fictions of his life. And what, exactly, have we just read? The truth, or just another elaborate fiction? The Man from Marseille
first appeared in 1985.
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