This collection astutely highlights the spy thriller, though the much shorter tales offer solid support.


Fables of the CIA

Officers and analysts struggle, whether in the field or behind a desk, in this collection of CIA–centric stories.

Grayson (Strange Science Fiction and Fantasy Omnibus, 2014, etc.) offers only four tales in this book, but they vary in both tone and length. Fortunately, the most exciting story is also the longest, the novella-sized “But Who Pursues?” In it, CIA desk jockey Steve Rogers’ poor job performance is the result of losing his wife and sons. He’s saved from unemployment by pal Mac, who also lands Steve an assignment: tag along with Navy officer George Caruthers to Zurich. Steve, unaware of Caruthers’ objective, is taken aback when the man chains an attaché case to his wrist and hands him a revolver. Things get worse when a bloody Caruthers later returns and, before dying, warns Steve to run. Steve heads back to the U.S. as quickly and covertly as possible, but he’s fairly certain someone’s trailing him, especially once people who try to help him wind up dead. He finally takes the offensive, using funds (courtesy of Caruthers) to buy a newspaper and to hopefully draw out his pursuers with headlines teasing a tell-all article. The story’s rife with suspense; readers, like Steve, don’t know who’s after him, making every character a suspect. The book’s opening tale, “The Station Chief,” is markedly different, an irreverent account of a chief in Senegal, West Africa, so overbearing that agents look for a way to have him transferred somewhere else. In the delightful but straight-faced “The Successful Intelligence Officer,” a by-the-book officer may get the agency to reinstate his terminated recruiting gig by doing something dishonest. “The Intelligence Research Analyst” closes the book with a rather modest tale of an analyst, disgruntled with writing reports, contemplating another position. The author’s meticulous prose works best in “Pursues,” its protagonist appropriately scrupulous in everything he does, including tracking down old contacts or finding places to sleep. Humor, meanwhile, is relegated to the first story and is incongruently off-center: an officer justifies his affair by claiming that he and his wife’s baby was “a monster, with two heads.”

This collection astutely highlights the spy thriller, though the much shorter tales offer solid support.

Pub Date: Nov. 13, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-692-57949-7

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 25, 2016

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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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