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Books in Brief: Pinocchio, A Brief History of Seven Killings, Moriarty

CHILDREN’s

Pinocchio retold by Kate McMullan; illustrated by Pascal Lemaitre (Henry Holt, $12.99) Ages 7 to 10.

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The first in a series of Cartoon Classics gets off to a promising start with this amusing graphic novel chapter book of the Carlo Collodi tale. (Kate McMullan, author of “I Stink!” picture book and the Dragon Slayers’ Academy chapter books, notes that the original 1883 Pinocchio was first published a chapter at a time in a newspaper in Rome, with a cliffhanger ending in every chapter.) Lemaitre’s droll cartoons do much to propel the story along, through its bizarre twists and turns: Pinocchio is tricked into giving up his money by the blind Cat and limping Fox and later ends up a donkey slaving in Toyland. Children familiar with the Disney version may be shocked at the chapter where the famously lazy puppet throws a hammer and accidentally kills the cricket.

– Jean Westmoore

FICTION

A Brief History of Seven Killings by Marlon James; Riverhead (688 pages, $28.95)

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Marlon James’ epic, multifaceted story revolves around Rasta reggae superstar Bob Marley, and the failed assassination attempt in December 1976, just two days before he planned to play a Smile Jamaica concert in Kingston meant to ease political tensions in the island nation. Those tensions run through every page of “Seven Killings,” a sprawling saga that carries the story of Marley’s would-be killers to Miami and New York in the early 1990s and dazzlingly employs more than a dozen narrators who tell their own versions of events, often in Jamaican patois.

Like a capacious 19th century novel crossed with a paranoid Don DeLillo conspiracy-theory thriller, the book is a low-burning spliff that begins with a four-page list of 76 characters. The reader needs to refer to it frequently.

As the book begins, Jamaica is wracked by drug-fueled gun battles among the supporters of the left-leaning People’s National Party, led by Prime Minister Michael Manley, and the center-right Jamaican Labor Party of former music industry executive (and later prime minister) Edward Seaga. The book examines CIA efforts to destabilize Manley’s government, seen as drifting close to Fidel Castro’s Cuba. Marley, never named or heard from but referred to only as “The Singer,” is caught in the middle. Among the many characters telling this tale are gang leaders and enforcers with names such as Papa-Lo, Shotta Sheriff and Josey Wales, as well as shooters with sobriquets such as Weeper and Bam-Bam. The last is introduced in a grisly, masterfully rendered set piece in which his family is murdered.

“A Brief History of Seven Killings” can be rough going. Quotation marks are rarely employed, and it’s often difficult to be sure who’s talking to whom. But the book rewards time spent, bringing a complex perspective on violence, corruption and the untidiness of humanity to vivid life and astonishing detail.

– Dan DeLuca, Philadelphia Inquirer

suspense

Moriarty by Anthony Horowitz; Harper, 304 pages ($26.99)

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Meet the new Athelney Jones. He’s a Scotland Yard inspector who cluelessly arrested the wrong man on suspicion of murder in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890 Sherlock Holmes novel, “The Sign of Four.”

Sherlock Holmes is nowhere to be found in Anthony Horowitz’s fiendishly clever new thriller, “Moriarty.” But Athelney Jones has returned and, not one to accept defeat, he is a changed man. He has carefully studied Holmes’ scientific monographs. He has met with other inspectors who worked alongside the great detective.

A new villain, far more ruthless than Moriarty, has just arrived from America. He intends to take over as London’s ultimate crime boss. Jones becomes convinced it is his duty, with an assist from Frederick Chase, plodding Pinkerton detective and the book’s narrator, to thwart this new scoundrel.

Thus begins a rollicking adventure with Jones breathlessly racing about London as he tries to solve a horrific murder case while fulfilling his fantasy of playing Sherlock Holmes.

It is hardly a spoiler to say that “Moriarty” is a story in which a huge surprise awaits readers. In true Conan Doyle tradition, all the clues are skillfully hidden in plain sight, but readers will sail right past them until a shocking twist forces them to replay the entire sequence of events in their heads, begrudgingly admiring the author for his audacity.

– David Martindale, Fort Worth Star-Telegram