A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

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GENERAL RAHMINI'S DILEMNA

In this collection of two novellas, the conflicted eponymous character faces more than one dilemma.

In the title piece, Gen. Abdul Rahmini, the former chief of counterintelligence under Iraqi President Saddam Hussein, finds himself reluctantly working with the Islamic State group and even more reluctantly being recruited to carry out a suicide mission in America. He’s dead if he manages to slip by U.S. border controls, but as good as dead if he is captured and turned over to Baghdad authorities “who would cheerfully hang him.” But he manages to escape his co-conspirators. Posing as an Episcopalian minister, he winds up in a small Montana town, where he unexpectedly assimilates into the community and falls in love with an American widow. They Call Me the Cobra, an earlier novella, is Rahmini’s origin story; he was a professor who criticized his country’s brutal and repressive secret police in a speech. On the verge of being executed, he is instead installed as the director of the Internal Security Service and given three months to correct its abuses. But as with Michael Corleone, who becomes more brutal than his father, Rahmini ramps up the torture and earns the “Cobra” moniker not just from terrorists, but also his own subordinates. Both of Grayson’s (Fables of the CIA, 2017, etc.) stories have compelling ideas at their core and a strong protagonist. But they are unsatisfactorily dramatized; any suspense becomes undermined by one anticlimax after another. The title novella is the more intriguing of the two tales. It begins as your standard-issue terrorism thriller, but the minister ruse gives the story a Some Like It Hot/Sister Act twist that might have been played for dark comedy. The last third, in which Rahmini ponders revealing his past and illegal status to the woman he loves, would make a potent and timely romantic drama. But taken together, the works do not mesh. General references the murder of Rahmini’s wife and son by “an invading Shia militia unit.” In Cobra, Rahmini has a wife and daughter who survive a bombing of their home. And General is unfortunately riddled with errors (“What did you handle it?” Rahmini asked; “I was...hoist with my own petard”).

 A captivating Iraqi protagonist stars in two uneven tales.

Pub Date: Dec. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-692-04850-4

Page Count: 214

Publisher: Ingram Spark

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

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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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