An inventive spin on biblical history that’s undermined by shopworn tropes and overwrought prose.



In this debut novel, an American graduate student in Rome is drawn into a world of intrigue and occult religion after a famous geneticist mysteriously disappears.

Michael Malavolti is a physics major at the University of Chicago, but when he learns that his family line traces back to affluent aristocrats in medieval Italy, he enthusiastically decides to pursue a doctorate in Renaissance studies. As part of his thesis, he tracks his genealogy back to ancient Siena, which inexplicably attracts the attention of Federico Sisti, a well-known genetic researcher working at a Rome university. As soon as Michael arrives in that city, homicide detective Vivianna Giuseppe gives him grim news: Sisti has vanished, and his office has been burglarized and vandalized—with the ancient name of Satan scrawled on a whiteboard in blood. Meanwhile, members of the Ordo are keeping tabs on Michael’s every move; it’s a secret organization that dates back to the 19th century and blends a fanatical devotion to occult religion with a desire for “world domination and control.” Michael begins to suspect that he’s being followed and slowly pieces together the reasons why, uncovering a revelation about the origins of the three Abrahamic religions that could change the world. Author Malavolti, who shares his protagonist’s surname, ably blends an imaginatively revisionist account of ancient biblical history with a contemporary mystery. He also develops a fine potential romance between Michael and Vivianna. Unfortunately, many of the story’s other elements are derivative of a familiar, Da Vinci Code–style formula—there are esoteric holy relics (and even a man known as “the Relic Hunter”); an ancient, evil order looking to tyrannize the globe; and an unassuming academic who tries to save the world. The plot becomes increasingly convoluted as it goes on, requiring pages and pages of granular historical commentary to make sense of it. Finally, the prose style is earnestly melodramatic, as when Michael declares, when confronted with a mystery, “I’m going to get to the bottom of this.”

An inventive spin on biblical history that’s undermined by shopworn tropes and overwrought prose. 

Pub Date: Nov. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73292-630-1

Page Count: 322

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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