Intriguing and refreshing female characters enliven this mystery tale.

THE DEADLY MONDAINE

In Willis’ debut thriller, a seemingly meek retirement home resident handles unsavory types by using skills that she picked up during a career as a professional assassin.

In many ways, 84-year-old Hattie Rosales is like other residents at Shady Rest Retirement Home in Gethsemane, Illinois. However, she’s also a former hitwoman who doesn’t actually need the wheeled walker she uses, and when racist resident Dottie Tyler threatens to call Immigration and Customs Enforcement on a Guatemalan Shady Rest employee, Hattie decides to kill her. Periodic bits of backstory reveal that Hattie, as a young wife and mother, met Ludmilla “Milly” Netsurov at a Tupperware party in 1961. The two eventually turned the parties into a business called M&H, but they later earned the bulk of their profits from murder for hire, arranged by a man named Sid. In the present day, Hattie offs two more people, making the deaths look like accidents. This doesn’t stop police chief LaTasha Cranton from poking around Shady Rest. LaTasha recognizes Hattie’s sharp intelligence and accepts her advice on an active homicide case—the shotgun slaying of wealthy businessman Jack Mortensen. However, LaTasha also begins to suspect that Hattie had something to do with the recent Shady Rest demises, leading to a battle of wills between two savvy women. Willis’ novel showcases two multifaceted characters and provides parallels between them; although they’re on opposite sides of the law, Hattie and LaTasha, both people of color, have experienced sexism and racism throughout their lives. They’re also both exceedingly likable. (It helps, of course, that the people whom Hattie kills at Shady Rest aren’t remotely sympathetic.) Startling moments arise naturally, as in a scene in which Hattie cleans out a safe deposit box that’s filled with goodies from her former profession. Various mysteries creep into the narrative, involving the Mortensen investigation and Milly’s unexplained death years ago. The latter case is easy to figure out, but the book’s overall resolution offers a pleasant surprise.

Intriguing and refreshing female characters enliven this mystery tale.

Pub Date: April 30, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-977209-25-2

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Outskirts Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 16, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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