A satisfying tale about a German defendant and an American journalist; an impressive first novel.



A court proceeding in 1952 in South America deals with the long shadow of World War II. 

In his debut historical novel, Bergengren gives readers two heroes, Michael Cohen and Johann Richter, and it takes over 400 pages before they can start to trust each other. The tale begins with Richter on trial (actually an extradition hearing) in La Negra, a fictional city high in the Andes. The hearing concerns the actions of the former German army officer during World War II, and even now, the British, the French, and the Israelis all want him. But what is he guilty of, if anything? Cohen, an American journalist, attends the hearing. He was caught in Germany before the war and lost his entire family in Dachau. Later, he would lose his great love, Rachel Stern, in the Israeli War of Independence. Richter saves his love, Elena Stein. (After Germany surrenders, they flee to South America and start a family.) Richter loathed Hitler and the Reich and was bent on assassinating him (after the infamous 1944 attempt failed) and curtailing the war. Years later, agents in MI6 are passing secrets to the Russians (remember Kim Philby and friends?), best represented here by the vile Anders Hardy, Richter’s long-time enemy. Things finally come to a boil in La Negra with MI6, the CIA, and Hardy’s rogues. The appropriate mayhem, set off by a kidnapping, ensues. All this may seem like a hopeless mishmash—many other characters appear in these pages—but Bergengren deftly pulls it off. The densely packed story, mixing the fictional with the historical, features effective pacing—the author takes his time—and solid prose. The flashbacks of Richter in the ’30s and ’40s (supposedly written later by the fictional Cohen), which neatly mesh with the main narrative, are often more gripping than the confrontations in 1952. And ironies abound. Richter is in fact a good German—his father was part of the 1944 plot—and he rescued a Jewish woman from a concentration camp. Cohen feels a “sense of connection” to the ex-officer (“As improbable as it seemed, his own life in some ways mirrored Richter’s”). The denouement ties things up nicely. 

A satisfying tale about a German defendant and an American journalist; an impressive first novel.  

Pub Date: Sept. 28, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-692-60190-7

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Stillwater River Publications

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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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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