A promising start in a new direction featuring a headstrong but street-smart detective.

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MURDER AT CIREY

A VICTOR CONSTANT INVESTIGATION

This exhilarating first stab at a murder mystery by veteran historical novelist Sawyer (Rebel, 2014, etc.) rings true.

Primarily set in France during eight days in 1735, the novel centers around military police corps member Victor Constant, who is propelled by a strong sense of justice, which often keeps him from noticing whose toes he steps upon. It’s this stunning indifference to France’s very strong class structure that earns Parisian Constant an involuntary transfer to the picturesque rural region of Champagne. As he muses in a flashback, “Learn not to arrest gentlemen with friends in high places, or you’ll be cashiered from the military police corps of France.” Constant launches the investigation of the murder of a nobleman’s ambitious clerk on a nearby estate. At the estate, he meets, in an inevitably adversarial manner, the playwright Voltaire, opinionated lover of the estate’s mistress, Madame du Chalelet. Other members of Constant’s Chaumont brigade quickly pick up a penniless outsider as a suitable suspect in the crime. But the victim’s reputation as a philanderer and his unlikely, hidden wealth lead Constant to doggedly seek out a more conspiratorial solution to the crime, procedure be damned, especially after another man of dubious character is also found dead. Constant is soon racing the clock to find the true mastermind behind the heinous deed as he battles provincial attitudes. His partner, Renard, proffers, “If you tell me there’s conspiracy brewing [in Paris] in every street, I’m ready to believe you. But here, amongst our gentry? That’s not our way….We’re shoved away in a sleepy corner where nothing happens.” Sawyer has created a winning character in the obstinate Constant in what is the first book in a proposed series, and she has surrounded him with memorable characters, both noble and commoner. Her experience as a historical researcher shines through, such as when Constant performs the 18th-century equivalent of a ballistics match. Some of the language, especially the curse words, seems a bit anachronistic.

A promising start in a new direction featuring a headstrong but street-smart detective.

Pub Date: March 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0992472870

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Thorpe-Bowker Identifier Services

Review Posted Online: March 18, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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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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