DEVIL'S FOOD

With her career in New Jersey's criminal justice system on the skids, Loretta Kovacs gets a new lease on professional life as a tracker of cons on the lam: a divertingly comic entertainment with a bittersweet bite from Bruno (Bad Apple, 1994, etc.). Having lost her high-profile job as assistant warden at a state penitentiary following a riot during which she was held hostage, chubby Loretta is posted to the Parole Violators' Search Unit, a dumping ground known as the Jump Squad. Unsure whether his latest consignee really belongs there, Julius Monroe, the head of the PVSU, pairs her with Frank Marvelli, an effective skip tracer. Assigned to bring in Martha Lee Spooner, whose talents as a money laundress have attracted the custom of dope-dealing biker gangs, the odd couple grudgingly follow up on a tip that the fugitive is in Florida. Frank doesn't want to leave his wife (who's dying of breast cancer), and Loretta is reluctant to revisit WeightAway, the health spa where Martha Lee is employed as a bookkeeper and where she was a recidivist client. And then in the Sunshine State, Loretta and Frank discover that bringing their quarry back alive could prove tricky. A victim of scams past has dispatched a genial hit man to cancel Martha Lee's check, and an arrogant IRS agent (who has the fat farm's charismatic founder under investigation) wants Martha as a material witness. At the behest of insensitive but kindly Frank, the ever-hungry Loretta goes undercover as a client at the farm. When not fending off the facility's ``body Nazis,'' she's finally able to locate where her loyalties lie—and to precipitate the antic confrontations that not only put the partners on a new footing with each other but allow them to fly home with the elusive Martha Lee in tow. Fine escapist fare from a pro only a cut or two below the out- of-sight standards set by Carl Hiassen.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 1997

ISBN: 0-312-85990-2

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 1996

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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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