Readers of Gordon’s charming debut can rest easy about the outcome of the All-County competition. But there’s more honest...

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MURDER IN G MAJOR

An African-American violinist suddenly stranded in Ireland faces two daunting tasks: preparing the village school’s orchestra for a high-stakes competition they can’t possibly win and solving a pair of murders now celebrating their 25th anniversaries.

Dr. Gethsemane Brown gave it all up—her Dallas apartment, her furniture, her fiance—for a promised appointment as assistant conductor of the Cork Philharmonic. But when the job was given to the music director’s mistress, she settled for a teaching post in tiny Dunmullach, where everyone knows she’s an outsider and everyone knows that Eamon McCarthy, the gifted composer who lived in Carraigfaire Cottage with Orla, his poet wife, threw her off a cliff and took poison himself a generation ago. No sooner has Gethsemane arrived at the cottage, however, than the ghost of Eamon appears to assure her that he got a bad rap and beg her to reopen the case. Since her nominal job is to make her musical charges competitive in the All-County competition, a contest they haven’t won since Eamon died, Gethsemane, eager to curry favor with both a wealthy donor to the school and a high-profile musical judge visiting from Boston, suddenly has plenty on her plate. And that’s even before she begins to make the rounds of villagers as aggressively quaint as Sister Siobhan Moloney, the self-styled village psychic; Jimmy Lynch, the hostile witness who placed Eamon at the murder scene; and magician Nuala Sullivan, who claims to be in contact with Orla (and why not? acknowledges Gethsemane, who knows whereof she speaks).

Readers of Gordon’s charming debut can rest easy about the outcome of the All-County competition. But there’s more honest detection here than you’d expect, even if the murderer, whose career continues into the present, is a disappointingly marginal presence.

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-635-11057-9

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Henery Press

Review Posted Online: July 31, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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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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THE VANISHING HALF

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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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