Wednesday, April 21, 2021

Review of 'Exit' by Belinda Bauer

Death, in the end, beats us all. The ultimate end of life is inevitable but for some, it's harder to leave this world than others. Can we choose to leave of our own accord if we no longer have a quality of life? Can we get help if we make that fatal decision?

Not everyone can afford to travel to Switzerland for assisted suicide. Enter the Exiteers, good men and women whose job is to sit next to a terminal patient and witness the end of their life. Exiteers can't actively help the patients but they can provide the silver cylinder and plastic mask needed for the final act.

This is the background of the warm and witty Exit by Belinda Bauer (Bantam Press, January 2021), a brilliantly plotted and totally unique crime novel.

Seventy-five-year-old Felix Pink is an Exiteer, a good man working under a pseudonym with an honest desire to help others whose lives are no longer bearable. After all, if he didn't do it, who would? With his experience, Felix serves as a mentor for young Amanda, who joins him to witness a dying man's final breath. "I don't think I can do this," Amanda says. "You'll be fine," Felix assures her. What could possibly go wrong?

But something goes horribly wrong, and soon Felix is on run from the police and suspected of murder.

Exit is a whodunit/whydunit mystery but its strength is in its characters—real people with real lives and emotions. Felix is weighted down by events in his past. Calvin Bridge, the policeman on his trail, wonders why he ever agreed to take on the "worst job ever."  Skipper, the elderly man who planned to commit suicide with the Exiteers' assistance, comes to realize that his grandson is after a bit more than what is promised to him in the will. What make the characters even more human is the fact that many of them have pets to care for.

Exit is not exactly what you expected in a crime novel but exactly what you need for an enjoyable read.

Belinda Bauer grew up in England and South Africa. She has worked as a journalist and screenwriter, and her script The Locker Room earned her the Carl Foreman/Bafta Award for Young British Screenwriters. Her debut novel, Blacklands, Belinda was awarded the British Crime Writers' Association's Gold Dagger for best crime novel of 2010. Her novel Snap (2018) was longlisted for that year's Man Booker Prize.

Friday, April 9, 2021

The Trials and Tribulations of an Amateur Book Reviewer

"This is a novel I'm pretty sure you'd enjoy," my friend Ranen wrote to me. "It's very well plotted, and has gentle humor, and great characterizations."

The book did appeal to me. Exit by Belinda Bauer (Atlantic Monthly Press, February 2, 2021) tells the story of "Felix Pink, an older man with a group that helps people who have chosen to die with dignity. But there’s been a mistake, and Felix’s life is about to change forever."

That brief statement appears at the top of Exit's Amazon page, but the book is only available (so far) in hardcover, at least on the US site where I normally download Kindle editions.

I decided to request a review copy.

I enjoy reading, but I also enjoy writing reviews of the books I enjoy reading. Mostly, I review novels with a connection to Israel or Bulgaria, especially books being published in English for the first time. I am an amateur book reviewer. My reviews appear on my blog at the Times of Israel and on my personal blog.

Over the years I have established a connection with several small publishers, and they send me announcements of books about to appear in print. But I get most of the books I read to review by proactively requesting them, usually by emails written to publicists and marketing departments. I saw that Exit was available on NetGalley so I put in a request to review it.

"If you are simply an avid reader, we are happy to allow you access to a title, but in return we ask two things," responded the publisher of Grove Atlantic. "First, that if you have a chance to read the book, you take the time to write a review." The second thing was signing up for the publisher's newsletter. My request for a review copy was approved.

I downloaded a protected PDF from NetGalley and sent it to my tablet.

The other night I opened my tablet, eager to start reading, only to discover that the formatting of the PDF was horrendous. I didn't mind that it was an uncorrected proof, but how can


read a 

book if the lines

break like this. And then

paragraphs have no spaces between them.


The next morning, I logged into NetGalley directly from my tablet (a time-consuming process because I didn't remember my NetGalley password).

NetGalley has its own reading app, I discovered, and that is the preferred method for reading their review copies. I went to Google Play to download the app to my tablet (a time-consuming process because I didn't remember that password). Eventually the download started and then the screen said "installed successfully". I looked through the apps on my tablet, but I couldn't find the NetGalley Reading Shelf app anywhere!

Maybe I should try downloading the app on my phone, I thought. I returned once again to the NetGalley site (by now I had written down the password). I followed the trail to Google Play and downloaded the NetGalley app, installed it, logged in, and opened Exit.

The formatting was just fine.

So, now I am reading Exit on my phone.

Jodie asked me, "How can you read a book on your phone?"

 The next day, while waiting for my appointment at the dentist, I opened my phone and continued reading Exit.

So far, I am thoroughly enjoying it!