A sweeping, suspenseful murder tale that offers enough atmosphere, subplots, and vibrant secondary characters to make...

Winter Rage

A feud between the Mabry and Millard families in Ridgeway, Arkansas, leads to three murders, with consequences that haunt two families for five decades

In his new novel, McRaven (Build Me A Tower, 2016, etc.) explores life in the back hills of Arkansas, where it takes a special kind of inner strength and resolve to survive the soul-crushing poverty. Nate Prescott was orphaned at the age of 12 when both his parents died in an automobile accident. His mother’s younger sister, Andy (Millard) Henry, recently divorced from her cheating, truck driver husband Cam, takes Nate in and devotes her life to watching over him. Andy’s older brother Charlie, a fun-loving, irresponsible troublemaker, is also the beneficiary of her love and loyalty—at least whenever he returns from his latest adventures, usually broke. Andy and Nate manage to scratch out a bare subsistence on the dirt-poor farm that is Nate’s inheritance. Then there is wealthy, and bitter, Barry Mabry, who has never forgiven Andy for once rejecting him as a suitor. Now he contributes to the common gossip that she is a fallen woman because she divorced Cam. As the story opens, Charlie, Andy, and Nate are cutting down three trees that the Mabrys believe are on their side of the property line, rekindling a feud between the two families. When Barry is brutally murdered, Charlie and Andy are targeted as suspects. By the time two more killings are added to the toll, Andy and Nate realize they must flee the county in the middle of the night, selling off or leaving behind what meager possessions they have. The chase is on. Although the story features plenty of tension, the pace of the narrative is rather relaxed, with McRaven pausing to indulge in vivid descriptive passages that add color and texture. Of Nate’s grandfather, he writes: Elijah “was almost a caricature of the backwoods preacher, aging, with that beak of a nose that arrived places well before the rest of him.” But the frequent use of local dialect (“Don’t s’pose you’ns got a piece of hick’ry”), especially in the early sections, delays the process of sinking into the plot comfortably.

A sweeping, suspenseful murder tale that offers enough atmosphere, subplots, and vibrant secondary characters to make readers enjoy the leisurely pace.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-944962-28-9

Page Count: 404

Publisher: Secant Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 1, 2016

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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