Fool by Christopher Moore
Moore’s ingenious send-up of King Lear is sure to delight Shakespeare fans and seduce those readers who—thanks to the tedium of high school English class—may have developed an early aversion to the Bard. The book’s spirited narration is provided by Pocket, King Lear’s fool. An orphan who was raised by nuns, Pocket is a former actor and acrobat with a wide range of skills: He’s an expert at forgery and knife throwing, and he can amuse just about anybody, including Lear’s glum daughter, Cordelia. Pocket’s sidekick, Drool, a slow-witted giant with a heart of gold, plays the innocent fall guy in his mischievous plots. And there are plots aplenty in this playful tale. For the most part, the book adheres to Lear’s original storyline, but it also draws on other plays by Shakespeare, and the result is a saucy, sexy, modern collage of history and humor, poetry and politics. When two of his daughters prove unfaithful to their husbands and brew devious schemes, Lear—lonely and in despair—has only Pocket as his companion. The outcome Moore concocts would surprise Shakespeare himself. The best-selling author of The Stupidest Angel (2004) and You Suck (2007), Moore has a style all his own and an unmatchable comedic instinct. Both work to their fullest advantage in this delicious satire.
The Song Is You by Arthur Phillips
Phillips’ fourth novel is a cleverly plotted tale of two likeminded lovers set in modern-day Manhattan. Middle-aged and successful, Julian Donahue directs glamorous commercials in the Big Apple. He’s the picture of prosperity, but inside he’s reeling from the death of his infant son and the disintegration of his marriage. His antidote to pain is music—hard rock, cool jazz, decorous classical—which he listens to obsessively through headphones, keeping the world at a cozy distance. When he catches a performance by Irish singer Cait O’Dwyer in a Brooklyn bar, Julian knows he’s in the presence of a kindred spirit—another music lover in the process of shedding a painful past. Taken with her talent as a songwriter, Julian becomes Cait’s biggest fan, sending her flattering mail and tracking her performances via the Internet, remaining anonymous all the while. Although she has no idea who Julian is, Cait nevertheless becomes enamored of her mysterious admirer. The two dream of meeting but are afraid to do so, preferring the mystery of distance to the reality of intimacy. Phillips’ skills as a novelist are on full display in this poignant, sensitively depicted romance. Allusions to music—to its power and its practitioners (everyone from Billie Holiday to Jane’s Addiction)—fill the novel, adding a whimsical dimension to the proceedings. A reading group guide is included in the book and available online.
Shadow and Light by Jonathan Rabb
The second entry in the trilogy that started with Rosa (2005), Rabb’s newest novel is a stylish mystery set in 1920s Germany. The adventures of police inspector Nikolai Hoffner continue, as he investigates a death at Berlin’s Ufa film studios. The case at hand is the alleged suicide of movie executive Gerhard Thyssen, who was involved with an aspiring actress named Ingrid Volker. Volker has disappeared, but Hoffner links her to a sex club in one of Berlin’s more sordid sectors. During the search for Volker, Hoffner crosses paths with pretty Helen Coyle. An American talent scout, Coyle claims that MGM dispatched her to Berlin to persuade Volker to sign a movie contract. With Coyle along for the ride, Hoffner finds himself deep in Berlin’s underground, where he discovers a network of drugs, sex and shady business agreements. Meanwhile, he has his own problems to attend to, including a son named Sascha, who has fallen in with Joseph Goebbels’ crowd of right-wing extremists and may be part of a conspiracy involving both the movie business and Berlin’s political power brokers. An old-fashioned hero of the first order, Hoffner is trapped in a city where nothing is what it seems, and the reader can’t help but root for him. Rabb’s atmospheric writing captures the essence of the Weimar Republic, and his knack for noirish plotting brings to mind predecessors like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.