Authentic period detail compensates for what this overly methodical police procedural lacks in suspense.

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FOR THE KING

Delors’ second fictional chronicle of post-revolutionary Paris (Mistress of the Revolution, 2008) involves a manhunt for would-be assassins of Napoléon Bonaparte.

Roch Miquel, who has risen from humble peasant beginnings to the post of Chief Inspector of the Paris police, owes his success to his fellow Jacobin Minister Fouché. Recently, however, the Jacobins’ republican ideals have fallen out of favor. Napoléon, now Chief Consul, is growing increasingly despotic, and when an “infernal machine” is detonated on Rue Nicaise in the path of Bonaparte’s carriage, Jacobin plotters are immediately suspect. Prefect Dubois, Roch’s supervisor, sees an opportunity to discredit Roch, whom he’s always resented. He arrests Roch’s father, Old Miquel, proprietor of a popular Paris tavern. Roch has a month to apprehend the Rue Nicaise conspirators or Fouché will be toppled, Roch will be disgraced and Old Miquel will be deported to a penal colony in Guiana. Both Roch and Dubois know that the real culprits are royalists, ci-devant (former) aristocrats who want to depose Napoléon and restore the Bourbon monarchy. Amid the chaos and carnage left by the explosion, Roch uncovers his first leads—the body of a street peddler, the carcass of a mare and the remnants of a cart. Apparently the conspirators placed explosives in the cart, handed the horse’s reins to the peddler to hold and lit a fuse before fleeing. The investigation hones in on monarchists Saint-Régent, his valet Short Francis and a mysterious man with gold-rimmed spectacles. All are in hiding, and they have an accomplice, known only as “For the King.” Roch’s investigative zeal is threatened by romantic debacles—he’s learned his mistress’ wealthy husband is actually her father. His childhood sweetheart, Alexandrine, is managing Old Miquel’s tavern—but Roch’s obsession with Blanche has blinded him to Alexandrine’s less racy appeal. Meanwhile, the conspirators continue to elude Roch’s grasp. Is he overlooking something obvious?

Authentic period detail compensates for what this overly methodical police procedural lacks in suspense.

Pub Date: July 8, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-525-95174-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: June 3, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2010

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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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Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

CILKA'S JOURNEY

In this follow-up to the widely read The Tattooist of Auschwitz (2018), a young concentration camp survivor is sentenced to 15 years’ hard labor in a Russian gulag.

The novel begins with the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops in 1945. In the camp, 16-year-old Cecilia "Cilka" Klein—one of the Jewish prisoners introduced in Tattooist—was forced to become the mistress of two Nazi commandants. The Russians accuse her of collaborating—they also think she might be a spy—and send her to the Vorkuta Gulag in Siberia. There, another nightmarish scenario unfolds: Cilka, now 18, and the other women in her hut are routinely raped at night by criminal-class prisoners with special “privileges”; by day, the near-starving women haul coal from the local mines in frigid weather. The narrative is intercut with Cilka’s grim memories of Auschwitz as well as her happier recollections of life with her parents and sister before the war. At Vorkuta, her lot improves when she starts work as a nurse trainee at the camp hospital under the supervision of a sympathetic woman doctor who tries to protect her. Cilka also begins to feel the stirrings of romantic love for Alexandr, a fellow prisoner. Though believing she is cursed, Cilka shows great courage and fortitude throughout: Indeed, her ability to endure trauma—as well her heroism in ministering to the sick and wounded—almost defies credulity. The novel is ostensibly based on a true story, but a central element in the book—Cilka’s sexual relationship with the SS officers—has been challenged by the Auschwitz Memorial Research Center and by the real Cilka’s stepson, who says it is false. As in Tattooist, the writing itself is workmanlike at best and often overwrought.

Though gripping, even moving at times, the novel doesn’t do justice to the solemn history from which it is drawn.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-26570-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Oct. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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