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The Kept: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, January 7, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, January 2014: If someone were to tell you that The Kept involved cross dressing and serial murder, you’d be forgiven for thinking you’d stumbled on a new contemporary thriller. But James Scott’s debut, while thrilling, is set in rural upstate New York c: 1900. It tells the story of a mother and son who set off for a rough, rural town in search of the killers who murdered their family; there, they make some discoveries, all right--not just about the criminals, but also about their own damaged selves. This debut is not for the faint of heart--look for reviews that compare it to the work of Cormac (The Road) McCarthy. But it will grab you from the first line--“Elspeth Howell was a sinner”--and haunt you well past the discovery that Elspeth’s sins are both lesser and greater than you first thought. This is one profound and disturbing book from a writer to watch. --Sara Nelson


“Scott is a master of mood… This landscape is more mythic than historic, and Scott’s characters are dark brush strokes of appetite and deceit. His central concern, as a storyteller, is the dynamic of consequence.” (New York Times Book Review)

“[A] bravura debut....It is a testament to the author’s artisan-like control that he is able to tease us with Elspeth’s crimes from the outset and yet keep the terrible measure of her dereliction at bay until the final clinch, as breathless as it is inevitable.” (Boston Globe)

“Graceful…unsettling…The Kept is a novel where most everyone harbors dark secrets and most characters are not who they appear to be.” (USA Today)

“Dark and mysterious… A novel whose daring is found in its bleakness… The plot unfolds with a weighty languor reminiscent of Cormac McCarthy… sparse, elegant… haunting.” (New York Times)

“Quite an impressive debut novel…James Scott’s descriptions of nature and his ability to reveal two complex, tormented people are what make the book live and even sing, albeit a mournful, heartbroken music.” (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

“The Kept starts out as a straightforward revenge narrative, then slowly deepens into something much more mysterious and compelling. James Scott has written a riveting and memorable debut novel.” ( Tom Perrotta, author of The Leftovers )

“With its vivid sense of time and place, lyrical writing, and complex questions of what constitutes a family, The Kept is an outstanding debut by a bright new voice in American fiction.” ( Ron Rash, author of Nothing Gold Can Stay )

“The Kept is a deeply moving, disconcerting novel… Scott manages something quite difficult here, balancing both terror and tenderness with apparent ease. By the end of the book, you’ll be convinced that he can do just about anything.” (Kevin Wilson, author of The Family Fang)

“The Kept is a brutal and beautiful novel. Written with emotional ascendancy, these rock-ribbed characters illuminate loss, desire, and love. James Scott’s debut is a celebration of bracing action, evocative rendering of the past, and literary precision.” ( Julianna Baggott, author of Girl Talk and Pure )

“The Kept is both a thrilling adventure and a literary triumph. Following the journey of a mother and son who lose everything, only to find each other, James Scott’s haunting tale will astonish and enchant you, the words echoing long after the final pages have turned.” ( Hannah Tinti, author of The Good Thief )

“What a gripping story teller James Scott is and what a dark and lyrical novel he has written. The Kept is a thrilling debut” (Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy)

“A work of historical fiction that is both atmospheric and memorable, suffused with dread and suspense right up to the last page.” (Publishers Weekly (starred review))

“Scott is both compassionate moralist and master storyteller in this outstanding debut.” (Kirkus Reviews (starred review))

“The author has crafted a laudable, compelling, tightly woven tale with memorable characters. Scott writes with an eloquence that urges the reader to return to passages and reread them just to admire his superb skill. Highly recommended.” (Library Journal (starred review))

“Scott’s first novel epitomizes what’s great in this renaissance [of literary Westerns]: economy of dialogue; unsparing realism; the giddiness and terror induced by the knowledge of liberty.” (Maclean's)

“A vivid, violent, beautiful book...At turns tender and harsh, twisted and lyrical.” (Interview)

“Half beautiful, half disturbing, [James Scott’s lyrical images] decorate The Kept like frescoes in a crumbling cathedral…Feels like the shell of a Cormac McCarthy novel filled with the intricate yearning and familial strife of a Lorca play…A gripping combination.” (The Rumpus)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (January 7, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062236733
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062236739
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 1.2 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (359 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #375,947 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

104 of 112 people found the following review helpful By MommaMia VINE VOICE on November 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The Kept by James Scott is a difficult novel to read. There isn't a positive moment, not a ray of light in the dismal existence of these sad and desperate characters. They are certainly well crafted, the plot well thought out, the story compelling, yet the dark tone was very hard to carry with you, and carry it with you, you shall.

It begins quite simply, with death, and from those deaths come thoughts of revenge, anger, desperation, confusion and doubt. There was one sad moment after the next, one disappointment after the other, everyday a struggle for survival and a grasping and clawing that you can actually feel. Is that a sign of a great novel? It most certainly is, however, I felt it necessary to warn the reader that this is a very dark novel, there is nothing truly happy happening here, just a collection of pain and heartache that feels as real as any you have experienced in this world yourself.

This is well crafted, and I'm not disregarding that fact. If you are looking for a novel written in the tradition of Cold Mountain, then I think this one is for you. If you are looking for something light, a story with a bit more balance, then perhaps this isn't for you. If you are highly sensitive, this one might weigh you down as you read.

The dark and gray world of The Kept will linger with you, carry you down its dreary paths and leave its mark. This is a fine piece of dramatic literature for the discerning reader.
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78 of 87 people found the following review helpful By delicateflower152 TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 20, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Vengeance is the impetus that moves “The Kept” from beginning to end. The stark horror and brutality in the opening scenes are the result of past actions and the basis for future actions, all of which are founded in the desire of individual characters for revenge. Racial and sexual prejudices also provide a basis for violence and brutality throughout “The Kept.” Set in upstate New York during the late nineteenth century, this well-written novel captures the reader and holds one’s attention through its final pages.

Caleb Howell, the lone survivor of his family’s massacre, accidentally shoots his mother Elspeth when she rattles the door of the closet in which he is hiding. As Elspeth recovers and the two begin their search for the Howell family’s killers, Caleb begins to recognize disturbing past occurrences for what they really were and to uncover secrets his mother has kept hidden. Both demonstrate courage in the face of personal and unexpected challenges.

In “The Kept,” both psychological issues and moral dilemmas provide a basis for the characters’ actions. As the novel progresses, revelations about an individual’s past or about relationships allow the reader to begin to understand the motivation for a specific character’s need for revenge.

“The Kept” is extremely well-written, but it is not an easy book to read. It is violent and does not shy away from disturbing images or bloody scenarios and the suggestion that a character, in the interest of extracting revenge, take violent action. Readers, who are drawn to thought-provoking writing and narratives of depth, will find “The Kept” is a novel of the finest caliber.
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38 of 45 people found the following review helpful By Xina143 VINE VOICE on September 28, 2013
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
And that isn't just the landscape in this sad novel by first time novelist James Scott.

Keep in mind when I say sad, I'm not using it as slang. Sad doesn't mean weak here, Scott weaves some bleak, but powerful images here. No, I'm using sad traditionally-this novel is simply a sad story.

Elspeth Howell is a midwife-living a life of lies. She returns home from a job, to find her house and those she loves dead. Four of her children and her husband Jorah, have been slaughtered. Caleb, her 12 year old, is the sole survivor, but before Elspeth can get to the bottom of what happened, she is shot.

Caleb is wise beyond his years. He stands tall in the face of a brutal tragedy and does what needs to be done. Tends to his injured mother, the dead. And when his mother can stand, the two set out, seeking revenge on those that destroyed the family's quiet life.

Caleb is a compelling young man. His strength reminded me very much (and in fact that synopsis at the beginning the book agrees)of Mattie Ross in True Grit. When the world is closing in on him, he finds a well of strength, most adults wouldn't have, and yet when the author had him breaking down and showing his fear, I found myself drawn in.

And that right there is the issue for me, I wanted more of that. I wanted to see less steel spine in a young boy and more innocence. I wanted to see the loss of that, because that's what is going to really make this book sing. Scott didn't want to focus on the actual act-what drives Caleb and then Elspeth to seek vengeance, instead he seemed more content to focus on the how, rather than the why.
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28 of 33 people found the following review helpful By the GreatReads! TOP 500 REVIEWER on January 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover
The Kept by debutant writer James Scott is no ordinary novel. It is uninvitingly grim: merciless, unnerving, and gruesome - littered bodies of children, cracked bodies landing in the snow, bullets zeroing on their target, and the thud of skulls crushing against giant blocks of ice. It is replete with violence of the savage kind. It is intense, vengeful, and wild. But it is also about truth, hope and redemption.

Set in rural New York state during the winter of 1897 near the turn of the twentieth century, The Kept unfolds with 12 years old Caleb hiding in the barn as three men murdered his father and his four siblings. As the only witness to the gruesome act, he knows it is up to him to find the murderers and get justice. When his mother Elspeth Howell , who is a midwife, return to their isolated farmhouse she is devastated.

Leaving their homestead, Caleb and his mother Elspeth set out on the trail of the trio of killers. But along the journey little Caleb learns the truth about his family, his mother Elspeth and the world of deceit wherein they live. Together they find answers to questions that have long haunted them. James Scott delivers a heart-pounding read which is both dark and redemptive. It is an awesome novel that lovers of bone-chilling actions and terrifying scenes will enjoy.
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