A police procedural melds into an illusory journey that’s just as riveting, if not more so.

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WHY WE DON'T DIE IN DREAMS

A Boston detective’s recurring dream of a bound woman begging for help predicts a murderer who targets female victims in this psychological thriller.

The specifics in homicide detective Gavin McLean’s recurrent dream are generally the same. An unknown woman in a dungeonlike room, tied to a meat hook, tells Gavin, “Don’t let him kill me.” But after he and his new partner, Lucinda “Lou” Barnes, catch the case of Eden James, whom someone brutally raped, murdered, and left in a dumpster, the dream changes significantly. This time, the woman says, “You let him kill her,” leading Gavin to surmise Eden was the first target of a potential serial killer. Sadly, more victims follow, and it’s quickly evident that Gavin somehow knows each one. Thinking the murderer’s watching him, he fears for the women in his life, including Lou, his mom, and his baby sister. The detectives’ subsequent discovery of the likely murder room—a torture device–filled chamber akin to Gavin’s dreams—takes the investigation into the world of S&M. A sudden plot turn, however, pushes Gavin (and the story) deep into his psyche, and before long, his waking life and dreams are nearly impossible to distinguish. Although the twist does shift the narrative’s focus, Gavin’s relationships, particularly with Lou, provide a constant. Inevitable romance between the detectives sparks explicit sex scenes bursting with affection, as they’re generous partners. S&M is likewise treated favorably—it’s a therapeutic act and not at all perverse, as some may believe. The novel’s surreal second half (readers may suspect Gavin’s dreaming even if he doesn’t) temporarily sidelines the murder mystery, and suspense consequently wanes. Meanwhile, Zello’s (Romancing Broadway, 2015, etc.) straightforward but confident prose eases readers through further twists that ultimately become a bit predictable. But the ending throws everything, from characters to the serial-killer plot, into a glorious tailspin that offers both resolution and the hint of a sequel.

A police procedural melds into an illusory journey that’s just as riveting, if not more so.

Pub Date: June 14, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5334-8355-3

Page Count: 460

Publisher: Bitten Press

Review Posted Online: Nov. 13, 2017

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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