The Last Wild Men of Borneo
By Carl Hoffman. (William Morrow, 368 pages, $27.99).
The latest from Carl Hoffman is not the slam dunk that his previous venture into nonfiction explornography was. All you needed was the full title to know that one — "Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art" — was going to be a doozy. "The Last Wild Men of Borneo" is also about the pursuit of primitive art, in Borneo this time instead of New Guinea. But it focuses on two separate tales and Hoffman's attempt to link them (the men maybe sorta met once, a long time ago) feels like a cheat in the same way it did when Erik Larson crammed together two barely related stories in his "Thunderstruck."
Hoffman remains a gifted, suspenseful storyteller and, fortunately, both stories are compelling. Tough-talking American art dealer Michael Palmier, who tries to find bargain treasures for museums, reveals his clever methods for spotting fakes. And gonzo Swiss environmentalist Bruno Manser is, like Michael Rockefeller, an inspiring individual who allows his passions to overrule common sense. Palmier and Manser may not come together in any meaningful way but another way to look at "The Last Wild Men of Borneo" is that it's two books for the price of one.
Sometimes I Lie
By Alice Feeney. (Flatiron Books, 262 pages $26.99).
Amber Reynolds is in intensive care, in a coma after a bad car crash. Her mind is taking it all in, but only the reader knows this. Not the nurses or her husband or sister or the man who puts his hands around her throat.
So begins Alice Feeney's twisty psychological thriller, "Sometimes I Lie." With the main character in a coma, the "action" takes place mostly in Reynolds' head as she tries to reconstruct the events that brought her here. Memories float back — but are they memories or dreams? She's a former TV reporter working on a morning radio talk show in London. She's married to a man who doesn't love her. Her alcoholic parents are the source of her trouble. Or not.
"Everyone I've ever got close to gets hurt in the end," she tells us ominously.
The title is the immediate tipoff that Amber is not a reliable narrator. Yet she remains a sympathetic character as she pieces together how she came to the ICU. Who was with her when she went through the windshield? How did her husband hurt his hand? Why is her sister seducing him?
Set mostly in a hospital room with just a handful of suspects, the narrative stays taut, and dread builds as each piece falls into place. Feeney plants the reader in Reynolds' mind with vivid descriptions of a coma as seen from the inside. "Sometimes it feels like I am lying at the bottom of a murky pond, the weight of the dirty liquid pushing down on me, filling me up with secrets and filth."
Feeney's debut novel slides neatly into the company of Gillian Flynn's "Gone Girl" and Paula Hawkins' "The Girl on the Train." With its various plot twists, it's a dizzying, disturbing read that becomes hard to put down once Amber tells us, "I'm back now and I remember everything."