Kirkus Review of “Until Death Do You Part” Reviewed

Every author thinks that his novel is the best that was ever written as over several years he may have put all of his energies in writing what he thinks is the perfect book. Book review companies like Kirkus serve the useful function of providing an unbiased look at the book as they evaluate the work from their own mindset of what that “perfect novel” should be and how it should read, which is not necessarily the same as the author’s vision. As a writer, Professional Geologist, hunter, cook, and outdoor guy, I wrote Until Death Do You Part as the book I would like to read filled with facts and local insights something in the manner that Michener wrote in his epic novels like Hawaii. To expand on some points I included footnotes which the reviewer found more distracting than helpful as they “insert the author into the story, explain his writing choices, and promotes his other works.” To a degree, I agree, and the footnotes were dropped in Fleet Cooper’s excellent audio rendition of the book, which is also now available from Amazon and other sources, and likewise footnotes do not appear in the screenplay.

The anonymous review appears below. I do not know if this was written by a man or woman, but I think I may know why some elements in the book turned the reviewer off.

Kirkus Review

What starts as an innocent tour of Italy turns into a dramatic dash to save a family in Smith’s novel.

By the early 2000s, the Italian-American Calsase family is two generations removed from their European roots, so they make travel plans to go across the sea to visit distant relatives. The two brothers of the family are both moving on from failed relationships. In Italy, the story begins with a once-powerful Mafia family in a weakened state. Unbeknownst to the Americans, they’ve had to deal with a spate of arrest and a vendetta murder, which have left the family’s new leader, Luigi, desperate to show his family’s strength but also to keep them safe. He hatches a plan to quickly marry of Cecelia, his daughter – who’s grieving her recently killed childhood friend Davide – and Angelica, his feisty niece, to the American brothers. The plan sets in motion a dramatic series of events that imperil the lives of everyone involved. Over the course of this novel, Smith presents realistic settings by offering painstaking details of local food, both in Louisiana and in Italy; for example, he pays considerable attention to the preparation of wild game for the wedding feast. What’s unrealistic is how the story hinges on the unlikely arranged marriages, which is especially distracting in a story set in the early 2000s. The treatment of the novel’s female characters is also problematic; for example, when one of the brothers asks Luigi which women is his intended, Luigi answers, “No difference. Choose!” and nobody seems bothered by this. Some pains are taken to present Angelica as independent and career-minded, but they’re undermined by constant references to her sex drive. Another distracting choice is the unconventional use of footnotes, which insert the author into the story, explain his writing choices, and promotes his other works.

A gastronomically descriptive but unevenly executed work of crime fiction.

I think that the reviewer did a masterful summary of the plot and did point out many of the favorable aspects of the story, such as, “The plan sets in motion a dramatic series of events.” What I think turned this reviewer off was my references to a lot of “guy stuff” like cars, guns, food, and engineering which I found interesting; but she apparently saw as only slowing down the action. I believe she was looking for something more like a screenplay where a novel is cut down to its action components which are piled onto each other to present as constant a series of action events as possible while viewing significant cultural details only as passing flashes on the screen.

In my novel I wanted to do more than that. I take the reader on a tour of the Southwestern U.S. from California to Louisiana, and expose them to the local history and culture as one of the sons tries to struggle home with “The Busted Beast, ” an old International Scout II that he, his brother, and father had rebuilt. On his trip he samples a homemade tamali the size of a dinner plate, a goat curry, seafood, and picks up crawfish for the family’s reunion dinner, which is to celebrate his brother’s return from combat in Iraq. That brother contributes to the novel’s gastronomic events by shooting a wild boar and making a version of Brunswick Stew that figures in the novel as a vehicle to carry poison to be served during the wedding feast. The culinary climax of the novel is the slicing and serving of the wedding cake in which different layers contain combinations of fruits and nuts native to the island – something not equaled by the Pope’s pastry chefs in Rome in size or complexity.

Other vehicles that play significant parts in the novel are a Fiat 500 which two Italian undercover agents rework and have painted in the manner of a donkey-drawn wedding cart from the 1500s, a red Ferrari driven by Luigi’s feisty niece, and a variety of Mercedes touring cars and sedans. Many of these vehicles are involved in a dramatic race to safety down a series of steep switchbacks while being fired on by turn-coat police.

I like my guns and knives too. As I build knives, I made the wavy-bladed knife shown on the cover that also plays a significant part in the novel, and discuss several others. I also discuss in some length the Colt 1911, Walther PPKs, Thompson Submachinegun, and what was once an expensive guns designed for shooting live pigeons which has now become a cut-off shotgun used by a childhood friend to kill Davide in order to sustain his family’s honor by completing a 200-year vendetta. This horrible event is the final straw in a lifetime of blood and murder that strengthens the feelings of Cecilia and Angelica that they must leave the island if they are to have a life, even if it means marrying two men they have never met.

I think that the reviewer bonded with Angelica and strongly felt that I had done my character a disservice by letting her agree to an arranged marriage, which others, say of Indian or Middle-Eastern extraction, have no problems with.

Although I have no talent in that direction, I also like the visual arts, particularly painting. This is the reason that two of the characters are painters – one of the brothers and Luigi, The Claw. By coincidence, both like to paint with old mineral-based pigments. Roger, the younger brother, assist Luigi in completing “his great work” which is a heroic sized painting of “The Death of Archimedes,” and in doing so forms a strong bond between him and his future father-in-law who might one day kill him should he dishonor the family which he is now about to join.

The novel comes to a realistic conclusion that invites further investigation of some of the characters and their lives before and after this life-altering family vacation in later works.

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