A welcome new approach to the small-town legal thriller.

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Desperate Shop Girls

Gersh (Art Is Dead, 2006), a former attorney, charmingly lampoons his one-time profession in this lighthearted legal thriller.

A. James Emerson “Jimmy” Harris is an alcoholic, sketchy lawyer who gave up defending drug dealers in the city of San Buenasera, California, to go into practice in a small coastal California town. He’s no Perry Mason; his paralegal, Clyde, handles all legal matters for him, while his partner, Karen, does his analytical thinking. Instead, the wisecracking, self-deprecating Jimmy reacts impulsively when opportunity arises. So when Janet Mason, star of the recent television show Desperate Shop Girls, walks into his office wanting to divorce her developer husband and put a stop to his current project, Jimmy doesn’t think too deeply about it. But Karen does: “But why would she want to stop the development? It’s part of the community estate. She’ll lose half the money.” Mix in a vengeful mortician, a stern FBI agent, and a threatening, mob-connected union boss, and Gersh has all the makings for a wonderfully convoluted mystery. The author skillfully blends his narrator’s internal monologue and his sarcastic dialogue with others to propel the narrative along. Take, for example, this explanation of Jimmy’s ethics: “I’m an attorney. I’ve humbly bent the knee of fealty to my lord client. I’ve attorned. Get it? Attorney, attorned.” The author also sketches colorful characters, as seen by his snarky protagonist; here’s Jimmy’s take on the local police chief: “When he was a patrolman, the town had been beset by the scourge of jaywalking. He was assigned to a task force to stamp it out. It was that success that got him his job as our Chief of Police.” Confused Jimmy is so busy going down his own rabbit holes that readers will likely figure out whodunit and why long before he does. However, the way that Gersh guides Jimmy to the case’s conclusion is what makes this novel so enjoyable.

A welcome new approach to the small-town legal thriller.

Pub Date: March 26, 2015

ISBN: 978-0692389218

Page Count: 314

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: May 22, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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