A gloomy but distinctive mystery that overcomes occasional snags.

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THE RIPPER

An elusive serial killer in modern-day Spain takes inspiration from the brutal murders of Jack the Ripper in Anaya’s (Baria City Blues, 2017, etc.) thriller.

The latest case for Commissioner Carrillo in the city of Baria is a particularly savage murder. Cristiana Stoicescu, a known sex worker, has been mutilated. The commissioner, usually working in tandem with Inspector Malasana, initially looks at the victim’s employers as suspects: Romanian thugs who not only deal in prostitution, but also in other illicit ventures, such as blackmail. It soon becomes abundantly clear that the murderer has the same modus operandi as the infamous Ripper of Whitechapel. Furthermore, Cristiana’s killing occurred on Aug. 31, the same day as the Ripper’s first recorded slaying back in 1888. Carrillo anticipates that a second murder will correspond with the September date of the Ripper’s next killing. His guess is proven right, but he’s unfortunately unable to prevent the murder of another prostitute. Shortly thereafter, the murderer begins sending taunting messages to Carrillo directly, via text messages and handwritten letters. The press starts to mock the police’s inability to ensnare the killer, and soon, the public at large believes that “the new Ripper” has outsmarted authorities. In the meantime, Carrillo sifts through a bevy of suspects, false confessions, and apparent leads that seem to go nowhere. An FBI–approved profile doesn’t shrink the commissioner’s suspect list, which is made up of an array of seedy individuals who are guilty of many transgressions even if they’re not guilty of serial murder. Soon, Carrillo fears that the killer won’t stop at five victims—the number that’s attributed to the Ripper. Indeed, he may never stop at all. Anaya’s novel is, rather appropriately, a dark and haunting affair. The killer is unquestionably vicious, and the fact that he signs off his messages to Carrillo with a derisive giggle (rendered as “Tee hee”) makes him all the more unnerving. The story’s secondary characters are memorable, if generally unsavory, and include everyone from drug dealers and addicts to sexual offenders. Even the police are far from wholesome; Malasana beats up suspects so often that it’s clear that it’s a routine part of his interrogations. There’s a shortage of significant female characters, though, aside from the notable (and tenacious) Inspector Galan of the Deputy Analysis Unit. The lengthy novel closely follows Carrillo’s investigation, which generates a school of red herrings. But none of these subplots is simply abandoned; Carrillo and Malasana always ensure that criminals pay for their crimes, even if they’re not directly connected to the serial slayings. Throughout, Anaya rigorously describes the environment—particularly the effects of late-summer weather in Spain; the characters are persistently burdened by brutal heat that can’t be remedied by shade, tap water, or air-conditioning. However, the text’s English translation from the original Spanish seems uneven. Grammatical errors throughout prove distracting, as do the multitude of Spanish-language sentences with no context. In the end, though, the book’s denouement is wholly satisfying.

A gloomy but distinctive mystery that overcomes occasional snags.

Pub Date: May 17, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5467-4302-6

Page Count: 558

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 16, 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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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