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REVIEW: The Good Mayor by Andrew Nicoll

Dear Mr. Nicolls,

0385343124.01.LZZZZZZZWe get lots of arcs and finished copies of books offered to us at Dear Author. Some I am anticipating, others I recognize the author’s name and in a few cases, I’ve never heard of either book or author. Your debut novel, “The Good Mayor” falls into the latter category. I say this not to denigrate it but to point out that I had no idea what I would be getting myself into when I started it. The US cover of the book enchanted me. When Jane sent this in a box of other books, that is what made me pull it out and check the back blurb.

In a busy little city in a forgotten corner of the Baltic, in an office on the square, the beloved mayor of Dot lies on his office floor, peering beneath his door. Tibo Krovic has come to work from his house down at the end of a blue-tiled path. He’s taken, as usual, the tram seven stops, and walked the final two. He’s stopped for strong Viennese coffee. And now Tibo Krovic is looking at the perfectly beautiful feet of his voluptuous, unhappily married secretary, Mrs. Agathe Stopak. The Good Mayor is badly in love.

And over the course of days, months, and years, amid life’s daily routine-‘a fallen lunch pail, a single touch, a handwritten note and then a terrible choice-‘he and Agathe must come to terms with this thing that has seized hold of them both, exploring the tastes of desire and despair, love, friendship, and betrayal. . . . Until fate, magic, and their own actions lift them from their moorings-‘toward an utterly unexpected future.

Their tortuous road to bliss is fraught with phantom circus performers, malevolent painters, rotund lawyers, mysterious fortune-tellers-‘and every single one of love’s astonishing little cruelties and miracles.

Something about a man so helplessly in love with a woman that he seizes the opportunity to spy on her feet under a door made me think, “this guy’s really got it bad. He’s on his knees peering under a door just to see her feet? Okaaaay.” I read the second paragraph of the blurb and decided by its last sentence to read the book. Having now finished it, I’m glad that I didn’t read the last part or I might have lost faith reading about the tribulations and pitfalls along their path to a HEA. But then this is a fairy tale and all good fairly tales involve some effort before the words, “and so they lived happily ever after.”

I’m not sure if this is a contemporary or a book set in a not too distant past. There are no indications of time frame or year, and I usually go nuts if I don’t have these things, but then it’s a fantasy. You make the reader decide. Or not, if they don’t care about such things. Even the place is nebulous. I was amused by the town names: Dot, Dash, Umlaut and the River Ampersand. Obviously fantasy but not too much since these are supposed to be little towns in the Baltic area and sometimes their city names sound at once common and yet foreign to me.

About 100 pages into the novel, I stopped to think, “I’m reading about an honest man with an ordinary life who is hopelessly in love with an unhappily married woman and I’m not depressed by the story.” Truly I wasn’t. I delighted in reading the every day events on the Mayor’s daily calendar and how Agathe purchased her naughty knickers. I teared up at the heartbreaking night that followed which signaled the end of her marriage. Your descriptions put me on the trams of Dot and let me watch her citizens going about their lives and see how they felt about their Good Mayor Tibo.

And these people fascinated me. Tibo who is good, kind, honest and trustworthy. Agathe who is beautiful in a buxom sort of way. The rotund lawyer Guillaume who sees more than Tibo would like. The strega Mamma Cesare with a will of iron despite her small stature. And countless others who are so well described with only thumbnail sketches.

Your writing style is delicious and makes me think of one of my fellow reviewer’s delight in a turn of phrase. Agathe doesn’t drop her dress she lets it “whisper to the floor.” Does she walk home? No, she “crunched over the gravel along the boulevard.” Mamma Cesare isn’t a little, gray haired woman, she’s “a pocket battleship of a woman.” When you describe a nasty piece of work who beats his wife as “a man who walked with his shoulders,” I could see his cocky, swaggering attitude.

But man, during the last 50 pages of the story, the fairy tale aspects kick into overdrive. Agathe literally changes but it’s a voluntary change, one she seems happy with, one that frees her. As she muses, there’s no job, nothing she has to do but lay in the sun, enjoy the smells on the breeze and love Tibo. But Tibo changes as well. There were times when you wrote things like, “Tibo had never…,” or “the citizens of Dot would be surprised to see their mayor….” that lead me to think that perhaps Tibo had always wanted to do these things but felt constrained by his past and his position. Now he’s not hemmed in as “the Good Mayor” anymore. He can write a book about a strange topic, or, as he and Agathe dreamed, read Homer to his wife while he feeds her olives.

However, after finishing, I still wondered what happened to Hektor. And worried about Achilles. I can only imagine that like most fairy tale villains, Hektor’s past caught up with him as the ill wind blew through the town.

In reviews I keep seeing the same words used to describe this book: whimsical, magical, charming, fairytale-ish but for adults. The characters must come through their dark forest and confront their evil, which they sometimes bring upon themselves, in order to live happily ever after. There is a witch but she’s a good witch, there is a saint, who narrates the story and of whom we’re only occasionally reminded, there are mysterious people in the form of a lawyer who remains much in the shadows and a restaurant with scrumptious food and coffee run by a silent man who commands by the mere flick of an eyebrow. There is a cat and a dog, a rowboat and the sea. And the whole wraps you in its embrace until it settles lightly into a finish.

What is good and what is right? Are they the same? And what does Tibo do? The reader is left to be the judge of that.

I have to be honest and admit that I’m still not sure exactly what everything means and why you used some of the devices and characters in the story that you did but! this is a book I will think of, think on and probably go back to peruse to seek to understand more at a later time. B

~Jayne

This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Amazon Affiliate link earns us a 6-7% affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link (or anything for that matter) and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

24 Comments

  1. RStewie
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 16:07:16

    Ohh, this sounds like another for my Christmas list. This time, I think for my sister, who loves Romance but sucks at relationships. She loves to read, but does it V e r y S l o w l y…this sounds perfect for her.

  2. rebyj
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 16:10:42

    Oh, this sounds quirky enough to appeal to me! Good review.

  3. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 16:20:50

    This book sounds delightful and your review has really whetted my appetite. I think I’m going to have to get my hands on it.

  4. Jayne
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:21:05

    @RStewie: I think this is a great book for someone who reads very slowly as it will allow her time to savor it all. If you get it for her, I hope she enjoys it.

  5. Heidi
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:26:19

    Wow! What a great review Jayne. I’m getting this book just because :)

  6. Jayne
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:27:00

    @rebyj: Thank you! There are some wonderful scenes with food to whet your appetite even more. ;)

  7. Jayne
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:32:26

    @Heidi: Hey, “just because” is a great reason to buy a book. I’ve done it before myself. Great covers have also lured me. ::Sighing”” I sound so easy…

  8. Jane
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:35:47

    You do make the book sound very good. It’s not one that would have caught my eye but you are the master at finding the hidden gem.

  9. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 17:55:55

    Ooh, the cover picture has changed. Which is the American cover, this one, or the previous one? Not that it matters that much; I liked both.

  10. Jayne
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 18:03:40

    @Janine: The current cover, with the couple standing together under an umbrella, is the one on the book I have and which caught my eye. Since I made a comment about it in my review, I should have indicated to Jane which one I was referring to. My bad.

  11. Janine
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 18:06:36

    Ah, it’s okay, I am glad to have gotten to see both covers. I can see why this one caught your eye. It’s very romantic.

  12. Heidi
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 18:42:14

    I kind of liked the other one with him peeking through the door hole ;)

  13. Laura Kinsale
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 19:20:54

    Having just returned from a trip to the Baltics (Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania) I can say that they ARE magical and just that little bit “off,” so that you feel you’ve wandered into places that you’re only certain exist, like Brigadoon, when you are there, and possibly vanish when you leave.

    I think I’ll have to read this!

    Thanks for the excellent and intriguing review, I’d never have heard of it otherwise.

  14. Tae
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 19:49:58

    sounds wonderful, I must check this out – sounds right up my alley – a blend of fairy tale and romance

  15. Andrew Nicoll
    Oct 14, 2009 @ 23:24:16

    Thank you very much for your kind and considerate review. TGM is not for everybody, I know that, but you have understood it perfectly.

    You wrote: I'm still not sure exactly what everything means and why you used some of the devices and characters in the story that you did but! this is a book I will think of, think on and probably go back to peruse to seek to understand more at a later time.

    And that’s exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to write a Big Mac of a book to be wolfed down in a minute and forgotten. I wanted to leave scents and colours and flavours in your mind for you to enjoy long after.

    Thank you again for your kind interest.

    with all good wishes

    Andrew Nicoll

  16. Rissa
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 03:07:22

    Oh, goodie. Nicoll’s world sounds like a quirky mix of the Baltics/Balkans. I probably have to read this one.

  17. Jayne
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 05:09:46

    It is quirky but remember there are some darker aspects to the story. It’s a little like the fairy tales as they originally were and not the sanitized Disney versions we have today. Well, perhaps not quite as dark and pain filled as the originals but it ain’t all whimsy.

  18. Jayne
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 05:13:42

    @Laura Kinsale: Ah, that sounds like a lovely trip. Not all about lost luggage and bad meals. I’ve always thought these countries looked a little magical. I guess that’s why there are so many tales/movies set in mythical central European countries.

  19. Jayne
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 05:18:14

    @Andrew Nicoll:

    And that's exactly what I wanted. I didn't want to write a Big Mac of a book to be wolfed down in a minute and forgotten. I wanted to leave scents and colours and flavours in your mind for you to enjoy long after.

    Oh, definitely not a fast food book. It’s more like a leisurely, many coursed meal at a quiet out of the way restaurant where you tell a Mamma Cesare type, “just bring me what’s good.” And she does.

  20. Rissa
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 05:42:52

    @Jayne:

    It is quirky but remember there are some darker aspects to the story. It's a little like the fairy tales as they originally were and not the sanitized Disney versions we have today. Well, perhaps not quite as dark and pain filled as the originals but it ain't all whimsy.

    To the east lies the famous lands of Slavic melancholy where doom & gloom is pretty much de rigueur.

  21. Jayne
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 06:19:55

    As Boris says in “Lady and the Tramp,” “Miserable being must find more miserable being. Then is happy”.

  22. Leslie
    Oct 15, 2009 @ 21:27:16

    Hi Andrew,

    We share the same surname and as I am sure you know, there are a limited number of people named Nicoll in the world. I read that you are Scottish. My Nicoll ancestors came from Islip, England, to Islip, New York. The Scottish branch went to Nova Scotia (my understanding). Still, I am sure we are related. What a wonderful place and way to find a distant relative! I downloaded a sample of your book and am looking forward to reading it.

    If you want to contact me, write to me at lnicoll at maine dot rr com. I look forward to hearing from you.

    I apologize to the group for this genealogy intrusion but I couldn’t resist….

    Leslie Nicoll

  23. Andrew Nicoll
    Oct 16, 2009 @ 04:41:33

    Sorry, Leslie, I can’t seem to work out what your email address is. That “rr” business has thrown me.
    Well, Nicoll might not be a common name in your part of the world (I’m guessing that’s Maine) but we are pretty thick on the ground where I come from. And I doubt there would be any Islip connection. My family tree got kinda bushy and untraceable about 15 miles from my house bck in 1789. I suppose we were just too poor, too scared or too stupid to get on that boat.
    Lovely to hear from you.

    best wishes

    Andrew

  24. Regency
    Oct 19, 2009 @ 15:26:49

    Is the cover a reproduction of “Il Baccio” in Venezia, Italy? It looks like it. I love that. Have the poster of it and everything.

    I’m definitely adding this to my Must Buy list.

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