An often riveting tale in which solving a murder helps the protagonist learn more about herself.

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The Mercy

From the Jessica LeFave Mysteries series

An Austin, Texas–based psychologist looks into a childhood friend’s murder and uncovers secrets that could prove fatal in DeShong’s (Too Rich and Too Thin, Not an Autobiography, 2015) thriller.

Jessica LeFave is understandably distraught when cops find her friend, Camilla Cervantes, with a bullet in her head. But she becomes angry when Detective Don Wilder suggests that the murder, staged like a blood sacrifice, ties her friend to a drug cartel. She’s convinced the killing is more personal, so she searches for answers in Mexico City, where Camilla rescued young girls who’d been forced into prostitution. Jessica also hopes to find Diego de la Cruz, Camilla’s ex-husband and the father to their daughter, Ana Teresa. But it turns out that Camilla may have hidden some of her life from Jessica, leading the psychologist to stir up dangerous people. Jessica undoubtedly wants to track down the killer in order to satisfy her sense of justice and to debunk the notion that Camilla was involved in the drug business. But she’s likewise burdened with guilt over never visiting years ago when Camilla was in a mental hospital, and part of her reasoning for locating Diego lies in her own unmistakable infatuation with the “gorgeous” man. Jessica also struggles to come to terms with the troubling memory of her stepdaughter Kelly’s suicide; she repeatedly equates Camilla with Kelly, as they both had bipolar disorder. Despite the driving fact of Camilla’s murder, this novel is less a mystery than it is a tale of Jessica’s self-discovery. DeShong devotes most of the story to her absorbing protagonist, whose first husband was her stepbrother and who lost her second to murder. As an investigator, though, Jessica is lacking; she carries no cellphone (thanks to a “phone phobia”), and uses her lawyer buddy George’s phone to do basic Internet searches or peruse Facebook. However, the story boasts moments of suspense, such as a discovery of a slashed tire that could either be a warning or a threat. It also offers comic relief in the form of Jessica’s attention-hogging dogs, Suzi and Sammie.

An often riveting tale in which solving a murder helps the protagonist learn more about herself.

Pub Date: July 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-49212-3

Page Count: 316

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 15, 2015

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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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