Lydia's Party

By Margaret Hawkins. (Viking Press, 294 pages, $26.95.)

This entertaining book tells the story of seven women — friends, mostly, but occasional frenemies — who have gathered each January for the past 20 years for a party. This year is particularly momentous: “Somewhere Lydia would need to fit in a nap so she’d seem bright, unfazed by the effort this was going to take.” Lydia has cancer and has only weeks to live, and she plans to use the party as an opportunity to break the news to her friends.

As the hours tick down to the event, readers learn the back story of the friendships — including the complications, jealousies and misunderstandings. While most of the book is from Lydia’s perspective, a handful of chapters are told by other women, which rounds out the stories (and reveals how unwittingly unreliable a narrator Lydia can sometimes be).

While the device of a secretly dying protagonist is a bit forced, Margaret Hawkins overcomes that with her natural dialogue and full-blown characters. These ups and downs, these odd grudges held, these intense loyalties — this book feels like what lifelong friendships really are.

Lauirie Hertzel, Senior editor/books


Dark Times in the City

By Gene Kerrigan. (Europa Editions, 316 pages, $17.)

This import from crime novelist Gene Kerrigan is an offbeat thriller set in the Dublin underworld. Danny Callaghan has just been released from prison and is rebuilding his life when a gangster threatens to draw him into the high-risk, deadly world of rival organized criminals.

In post-financial-crisis Ireland, the economic boom is over, but crime still pays and the police can be almost as corrupt as the thugs. Kerrigan, in his fourth crime novel, paints a gritty, hard-on-its-luck Ireland and fills Dublin with memorable characters who would be right at home in Al Capone’s Chicago. As the unwitting hero, Callaghan is forced to choose among competing evils and the story advances with relentless tension.

David Shaffer, reporter