A San Francisco reporter might lose more than her job when her editor forces her to investigate the supposed suicides of two New York breeders of prizewinning dairy cattle.

In this debut novel, Cora Brooks is a veteran on the police beat for the San Francisco Standard. She is 45 and suffering the indignities of “an ungrateful son, a husband who’d found a younger woman, a body run amok,” not to mention an unsympathetic editor who seems bent on replacing her with an Eve Carrington–like rival reporter. Despite her protests, Brooks is dispatched to New York on the whim of her publisher to follow up on a New York Times story about two dead men, found in separate locations. One of them, Sean O’Brien, was the publisher’s friend. The other was Franklin Santerra, a dairyman who, over a four-month period, sold O’Brien three highly insured prize cows, each of which died within four weeks of the transaction. Over the course of a fraud investigation, O’Brien ingested strychnine, and Santerra, four days later, blew his head off with a shotgun. Brooks has her suspicions, not about the case, but concerning the editor’s motivation for sending her: “You think I’ll screw up so you can fire me. Save one layoff.” The seasoned reporter does not anticipate becoming part of the story as she uncovers links to her own haunted past and seeks closure to the mystery of the mother who abandoned her. The book alternates chapters Gone Girl–style, a device that works intermittently. At one point, Brooks is the focus of five consecutive chapters. Others are devoted to Abby, a woman at the turn of the century who becomes involved with an O’Brien ancestor; State Police Maj. Del Somer, who was once married to O’Brien’s widow; and Alice, Brooks’ elusive mother. Da Vigo has a strong sense of place and writes authentically about a profession under siege by corporate takeovers. And in Brooks, she has created a flawed but capable and empathetic character. “You’re a pisser, aren’t you?” Somer asks at one point. “Only in my better moments,” she replies. Stop the presses! An appealing crime-fiction heroine is born.

Pub Date: April 28, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9745722-1-5

Page Count: 428

Publisher: Quill Driver Press

Review Posted Online: May 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.


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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