McCullough’s (The Thorn Birds) sequel to Pride and Prejudice vaults the characters of the original into a ridiculously bizarre world, spinning dizzily among plot lines until it finally crashes to a close. The novel begins 20 years after Austens classic ends, with Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy trapped in a passionless marriage, Jane a spineless baby machine, Lydia an alcoholic tramp, Kitty a cheerfully vapid widow and Mary a naÃ¯ve feminist and social crusader. Shrewish Mrs. Bennet’s death frees Mary from her caretaker duties, and, inspired by the writings of a crusading journalist, Mary sets off to document the plight of Englands poor. Along the way, she is abused, robbed and imprisoned by the prophet of a cave-dwelling cult. Darcy is the books villain, and he busies himself with hushing up the Bennet clans improprieties in service of his political career. His dirty work is carried out by Ned Skinner, whose odd devotion to Darcy drives his exploits, the nastiest of which involves murder. McCullough lacks Austen’s gently reproving good humor, making the family’s adventures into a mannered spaghetti western with a tacked-on, albeit Austenesque, happy ending.
Former journalist McNally puts a magical spin on the last days of the Third Reich in his debut, a busy, beguiling novel perhaps too overstuffed with a dizzying cast and troves of lesser-known historical footnotes. Embedded in politics and far from the atrocities of the Nazi regime, figures like Albert Speer, Heinrich Himmler and Karl DÃ¶nitz become curiously sympathetic as they try to manipulate their ways out of their ineluctable futures. Woven throughout is the story of the Loerber quadruplets (known before the war as the Flying Magical Loerber Brothers-think: the Comedian Harmonists), who have psychic abilities and positions of power inside and in opposition to the Nazi regime: Manni is an assassin who can manipulate people’s wills; Sebastian, long thought dead, works for the Blood of Israel resistance and can mass-broadcast dreams; Ziggy is a U-boat captain who can hear and control others’ thoughts; and Franzi is a triple-agent in the SS’s occult studies division and becomes Himmler’s masseur and psychic adviser. The Loerber brothers, however, turn out to be less interesting on the page than Himmler, Speer and their contemporaries, though McNally’s blending of the fantastical with historical record broadens and enriches an oft-told story.