ELLENVILLE – Freefall by Jessica Barry (Harper). One expects, now, a really good woman-centered thriller almost weekly, some of them of the first level of either ingenuity or character/relationship sensitivity — or, rarer still, of course, both. There are very good writers at work, here. This first one, of the year but also of this writer, is especially strong as a pure action thriller. Suspense doesn’t turn on which character we’re to believe, but, first, on whether an unprepared but resourceful woman can survive in a wilderness, after a plane crash, while she’s being hunted; and the second, we soon discover, requires an equal, very different sort of smarts and nerve on the part of her far away, almost estranged mother. It goes a hundred miles an hour, both parts, and is just exhilarating throughout, and when they come together, very satisfying.
The Gown by Jennifer Robson (Morrow). A rich historical novel, intimately imagined and immersive, by a writer with a growing reputation. This is her fifth of this kind, set in Europe over much of the last century. They’re probably chiefly for women — they’re chiefly about women, certainly — but not “romances,” and not judgmental but alert and sensitive to the peculiarity of the status that working women were once matter-of-factly assumed to belong in. The (bridal) gown around which the cast and their stories revolve is the one that, once it’s finally designed, created, assembled square inch by square inch, will be worn by the young Princess Elizabeth at her royal wedding to Philip Mountbatten. I’m now almost certain that I’ve visited with all these people, in their homes and workplaces, and also had an audience with the Queen Mum at some hard-to-pinpoint time in my early life, that I’ll forever remember fondly.
A Delicate Touch by Stuart Woods (Putnam). The new Stone Barrington swashbuckling lawyer novel I promised you a short while back. The publisher has thought to furnish the following statistics: It’s Stuart Woods’s 70th novel, and his 50th consecutive hardcover bestseller, all in less than 40 years! One might be able to pick out a few that were even better than the terrific other dozens, but not by much; the energy and invention never flag. In this one, maybe, the big reveal of what trouble he has actually taken on comes a little earlier than usual. By a few paragraphs. And still surprises.
48 Hours by William R. Forstchen (Forge). Yet another pure entertainment novel — sub-category, apocalypse — by a veteran master of this sort of not just clever but thoughtful near-future s-f. A jarringly realistic, remotely-but-really possible planet-wiping solar flare is unstoppable, and prompts not exactly global war, but civil unrest amounting to anarchy and violent chaos almost everywhere, though we stay focused on the American president and a lot of ordinary small-town people. Delivers vivid military action, along with much else.