A thriller that entertainingly traverses well-traveled territory.

Sacred Blood

THE VATICAN ASSASSIN

A debut murder mystery that revolves around a long-standing history of secrecy at the Vatican.

Anthony Hibbert is the head of classical studies at UCLA and spends most of his time researching ancient Roman texts, most recently at the Vatican Library Secret Archives. He becomes intoxicated by a series of letters written by a 16th-century monk, Federigo Dottore, who ultimately confessed to being an assassin of Pope Julius II. Meanwhile, the current pope prepares for a visit from Avinash Sullivan, a technology billionaire who fronts an activist movement that demands that the Vatican radically improve its transparency. Some people fear that powerful people, who want to keep the Vatican’s internal affairs hidden, may harm Sullivan, and Hibbert is recruited to warn him (although the explanation for his selection is confusing). Sullivan is murdered in his hotel and Hibbert is arrested as a prime suspect, but he’s quickly exonerated. He returns to his scholarly investigations, during which he stumbles upon previously undiscovered, sensual sketches by the famed artist Raphael. On the back of these drawings is Dottore’s handwriting, and a beautiful, Japanese security expert named Akemi Morishima helps Hibbert decipher it. When other suspects in Sullivan’s death are murdered, it complicates an already tangled affair. It’s easy to lose one’s bearings in this story’s swarm of twists and turns, and author Amezquita seems content to let readers stew in their confusion. However, Dottore’s letters, which are presented at considerable length, are a delight to read, as they’re simultaneously sinister and repentant. Also, the author does a marvelous job of making Hibbert a remarkable but endearingly human character. His vulnerability can be striking: “He cannot stop thinking about his date with Akemi while he repeatedly touches his wallet to feel the set of condoms he has slipped into it. Buying them had been an ordeal. He felt the humiliation of a teenager.” Murder mysteries that center on Vatican skullduggery have become a popular genre, and this fits almost too neatly within that formula. This book’s historical astuteness and crackling eroticism, though, justify ranking it among the better options of its type.

A thriller that entertainingly traverses well-traveled territory.

Pub Date: March 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-58124-7

Page Count: 472

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 16, 2016

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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