Stark and harrowing, with a troubled protagonist’s inner turmoil magnified by a tangible evil.


The Dolphin

In this debut thriller, a man’s decadelong registration as a sex offender sparks police interest following a 7-year-old girl’s murder in New Orleans.

Sean Andrew Jordan was only 18 when a dubious encounter with a younger girl led to a conviction of criminal sexual abuse. He’s a registered sex offender but has a family—a wife, Laurie, and 4-year-old daughter, Ren—as well as employment as an adjunct professor. When Lt. Detective Owen Dupree finds the body of little Mattie Daniels, he checks on sex offenders in the area. Dupree, however, quickly zeroes in on Sean, whose alibi—at home with Laurie—doesn’t hold up. Sean had kept mum about being at a bar with pal Douglas Wile, who served time for indecent exposure but plans to lie low and ignore the court order to register as a sex offender. Sean doesn’t have that option, especially after a radio station, to boost ratings, starts outing sex offenders. He loses his job and incurs the wrath of the occasional citizen. Dupree, meanwhile, connects recent murders with explosions that are occurring around the same time. He may have his eye on Sean, but so does a serial killer, and when a young girl goes missing, it’s not long before Sean vanishes, too. Hallenstein certainly doesn’t pull any punches with his dark, often bleak tale. The murderer’s deeds, for one, are brutal even in their aftermath, while insight into the initially unknown killer exposes a violent mentality. But the protagonist isn’t any less gloomy. Sean, for example, is convinced he killed his parents, who died in an explosion when he was 11—details that the story doesn’t clarify until near the end. Notwithstanding, he’s wholly sympathetic, his long-ago crime paling in comparison to the current predators’. Likewise, the system’s labeling and corresponding treatment of Sean torture him so much he begins to question himself: is he sexually attracted to underage girls? While the murderer’s reveal is not surprising, the later scenes brim with suspense, including men taking shots at Sean in the French Quarter, crowded with partiers ready for the upcoming Mardi Gras.

Stark and harrowing, with a troubled protagonist’s inner turmoil magnified by a tangible evil.

Pub Date: April 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-57883-4

Page Count: 330

Publisher: Storyville Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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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.


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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