cover image This Is How It Really Sounds

This Is How It Really Sounds

Stuart Archer Cohen. St. Martin’s, $25.99 (368p) ISBN 978-1-250-04882-0

This sprawling novel from Cohen (The Army of the Republic) follows three men who share the same last name—Harry Harrington, a top daredevil skier whose career is cut short by injury; Peter Harrington, a Madoff-like financier trying to rebuild his reputation; and Peter Harrington, a washed-up rock star whose millions disappeared in the meltdown of the second Harrington’s fund. Harry nearly takes both Peters skiing at different times, but otherwise he’s offstage for most of the book. The bulk of the plot concerns rocker Harrington’s efforts to avenge his sudden penury by tracking down banker Harrington in Shanghai and punching him in the face. This portion includes the story of Charlie Pico, an elderly ex-CIA agent who rocker Harrington hires to help entrap banker Harrington—as flashbacks reveal, Charlie has unfinished business in China and is using the job as an excuse to repay an old debt. The prose is passable, and some minor characters sparkle (such as Camille, banker Harrington’s enigmatic Chinese-language tutor). The challenge of the novel is the structure, by turns intricate and forgetful; it’s unsatisfying and bizarre when the plot lines at last bring the three Harringtons to the same place at the same time, only to have two of them interact, and even then in a way that raises more existential questions than the novel has time to answer. This is an ambitious puzzle that ends up with a few too many pieces out of place. Markus Hoffmann, Regal Literary. (Apr.)