The music hall décor and atmosphere help distract from the flawed whodunit.

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THE FALLEN ARCHITECT

A disgraced architect struggles to clear his name in Belfoure’s third architecture-based thriller.

In 1900, Londoners flock to the gala opening of the new Britannia Empire Theatre. During a comedian’s routine, a balcony collapses, killing 14 and maiming countless others. Douglas Layton, a prominent architect who rose from humble roots to marry into the aristocracy, designed the Britannia and is blamed for the carnage. After serving five years in prison, Layton, divorced and barred from seeing his son, is adrift and a drunk. When he lands a job as scene painter for the Grand Imperial Theatre in Nottingham, he seizes this opportunity to reinvent himself. Under an assumed name, he wins the affections of the “artistes” whose backdrops he paints and the love of Cissie Mapes, who runs the theaters of the powerful MacMillan Empire syndicate, which turns out to have included the ill-fated Britannia. With trepidation, he soon accepts a transfer to MacMillan’s London circuit. Despite his new identity, his reputation as “The Butcher of the West End” has preceded him; he’s bedeviled by a builder whose career also ended with the Britannia job, a blackmailer, and at least two unseen attackers. But Layton’s architect’s eye is ever attuned to minor details, and when he notices plaster and mortar anomalies in two MacMillan venues, his digging unearths skeletons in each location. Telling clues point to the fact that those interred were his two former associates. Could they have been murdered because they realized the balcony defects were deliberately engineered? Layton sets about trying to learn who stood to gain from the Britannia collapse by researching possible ties linking the 14 casualties to the likeliest culprits—the MacMillan owners, the head of a rival syndicate, and the aggrieved builder. Once Belfoure embarks on this expansive fishing expedition, another structural failure looms: Since the suspects’ imputed motives conflict, a few of the deaths have to be coincidental—but which ones? It is a cul de sac from which Belfoure, himself an architect, cannot design a convincing exit.

The music hall décor and atmosphere help distract from the flawed whodunit.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4926-6271-6

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Sourcebooks Landmark

Review Posted Online: July 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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