Readers who can tough out the methodical opening chapters in which Kerr (Harmful Intent, 1999, etc.) sets up the parallels...



Densely woven legal thriller explores the human-scale motives for Balkan genocide through a painstaking analogy to a home-front civil suit for wrongful death.

Two years ago, former railroad attorney Elliot Stone served as conservator for Dale Stillwell, a brakeman crippled in a switching-yard accident. June Mooney, the switching engineer whose train had accidentally crushed Stillwell, had nursed him devotedly unto holy wedlock, and at the fadeout, both Stillwell and his bride were in a position to benefit handsomely from a railroad company settlement—though Stone can’t help but be disturbed by Stillwell’s dissociated remark: “I’m going to k-kill her.” Now, back from a horrific stint as the lead prosecutor in the case of a small-town mayor accused of ordering the murder of all the non-Serb male patients in a local hospital, Stone is plunged into the Stillwell case again in an unexpected new capacity. June Stillwell—who’s been hospitalized, the comatose victim of a vicious attack for which her husband is the sole, albeit uncharged, suspect—needs a conservator herself, especially since her daughter April plans to file a civil suit against Dale Stillwell. Unfortunately, the entire settlement Stillwell was awarded will be exempt from any judgment unless the charge is wrongful death. And then June, who’d slipped back from surprising progress into deep coma again, providently dies. After preliminary skirmishing, Stone and his one-time railroad adversary, Paige Jorritsma, join forces in the suit against Stillwell, duly noting that he’s protected by a dream team of legal talent, and by Dr. Hans Leiter, the same All-Star psychiatrist who’d worked shoulder to shoulder with Stone in Greater Serbia.

Readers who can tough out the methodical opening chapters in which Kerr (Harmful Intent, 1999, etc.) sets up the parallels between Stone’s Balkan sabbatical and the Stillwell calamity will be rewarded with a tour de force cross-examination and a provocative meditation on vanity, betrayal, and evil.

Pub Date: May 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-7432-1117-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2002

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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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