A plot-driven tale of intrigue and human attraction.

Death at Painted Cave


From the hills of Santa Barbara to a liaison in Nicaragua, Smith’s (The Psychology of Sex & Gender, 2006) energetic mystery, the first in a planned series, pieces together a fast-paced tale of murder and love.

After a well-to-do screenwriter claims to have accidentally discovered the gory remains of a beautiful young woman at Painted Cave, in Santa Barbara, Calif., Detective Robin Crane—a smart, ambitious and attractive single mother—is assigned as primary detective on the case. Partnered with her ex-boyfriend Detective Doug Debayle (with whom she’s still in love), Robin leads the investigation, and the two are aided by the expert forensic guidance of a no-nonsense medical examiner. Meanwhile, an older case resurfaces with possible connections: A young woman named Sara Castillo had been killed in a supposed car accident on a foggy night in 2006. It turns out that both of the victims were beautiful Latina students with strikingly similar features. Enter professor Plask, a noted university academic who travels to Nicaragua for anthropological research and who, it is soon discovered, has questionable forays with his female students. Could the publicly respected professor be involved? Or is the screenwriter who discovered the body at Painted Cave setting the stage for a twisted new script of his own? This whodunit mainly focuses on trying to capture the nefarious villain, culminating in a horrific—and surprising—tragedy and subsequent arrest. Smith adds splashes of romance as the detectives dig their way through evidence with some bantering and sexual tension. The book brings to mind episodes of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit, with changing dates and characters that can be a bit dizzying at first (the old, unsolved murder begins in the prologue). However, the author clearly notes all dates in the chapter titles, and readers who persevere will soon see the connections among characters. A somewhat unexpected romantic conclusion, which comes quickly in the book’s epilogue, feels contrived, but it leaves the door open for further installments in the adventures of the gutsy Robin Crane.

A plot-driven tale of intrigue and human attraction.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615771496

Page Count: 306

Publisher: Rough Waters Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2014

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


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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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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