A complex, multilayered thriller that sometimes overly depends on coincidence.

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THE LAST GOOD SAMARITAN

An ex-cop discovers a drug cartel’s huge money stash—but the group will do anything to get it back.

Jack Williams doesn’t feel like a lucky man as this thriller opens. He’s an experienced former Marine sniper, MP, and detective with the Denver Police Department, but now drives trucks for a living. Many would call Jack a hero for shooting a pedophile in the head to prevent him from assaulting a terrified 8-year-old boy, but an “ambitious DA” tried to make an example of the cop. Though Jack didn’t serve jail time and was convicted on lesser charges, he was dismissed from the force and then his wife divorced him, gaining custody of their two daughters and moving to California. But Jack’s luck seems to turn when he’s driving on a steep, winding Colorado mountain pass at 3 a.m. The cargo van ahead misses a curve, hurtling over the side; acting as a good Samaritan, Jack climbs down and discovers two passengers, dead or dying. Plastic-wrapped stacks of $100 bills and other clues tell Jack that the van was transporting Mexican cartel money, probably for laundering. Believing he’s left no evidence behind, he works out a careful plan to safely retrieve, store, and launder $120 million with the help of his lawyer, Henry Berman, totally loyal because it was his son Jack saved from the pedophile. In the Caribbean, whose offshore banks will discreetly take large cash deposits, Jack will start a cover business—perhaps in private charter security. He’s set to make a better life for himself and his daughters—except his luck again turns bad. The cartel wants its money back and a ruthless killer is soon on Jack’s trail. Meanwhile, Ray Cruz, a DEA undercover investigator, becomes embedded with the cartel bigwig whose cash was in the van, and a Caribbean figure plays a double game. When Jack’s family is put in danger, he must use all his skills to tip the balance of luck again in his favor. Thomas (The Kingdom Shall Fall, 2017, etc.) offers a great hook in this well-plotted tale—the windfall that might be too hot to handle. The details of getting, storing, and laundering the money are compelling, and the author thinks through what it would take. Dialogue and police/military elements are also well handled, with a strong air of authenticity. For example, when Jack must undertake a military-style mission, a friend explains the weaponry: “With the fucking kick and impact expansion of the hot 7.62 NATO 175-grain hollow-point round this bitch fires, close is all you’ll need.” The pace is slowed down somewhat by attention to inessential facets or logistics, as in this passage featuring Felix Brillo, a cartel member, and Ray: “After getting Felix situated in the rear seat with his seat belt on, the pilot stored their bags in a small compartment and told Ray to join him in the front.” And at times, the plot relies too much on events extremely convenient to Jack or on coincidence (including one involving a financial matter).

A complex, multilayered thriller that sometimes overly depends on coincidence.

Pub Date: April 11, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-9965607-3-3

Page Count: 385

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 2, 2019

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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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