Bursting with vigor and electrified characters and with an ending the author stamps with a knowing wink.

Mammoth

A small group deals with the fallout of a California ski-resort town whose residents have mysteriously vanished in Perry’s (Eliot Ness: The Rise and Fall of an American Hero, 2015, etc.) thriller.

An earthquake in Mammoth View is just the beginning. Once the explosions hit, the town’s in a full-scale panic. Billy Lane and cohorts Jackson and Sam use these as diversions to rob the local bank, but a traffic jam impedes their getaway. They turn around and head up the mountain, passing through a summer running camp for girls. Billy’s teenage daughter Tori is there, but when she returns from a hot-spring dip, her fellow runners and coaches are gone. Back in Mammoth View, notorious hellion brothers Melvin and Gordon Johnson are taking advantage of the seemingly deserted town, grabbing food or whatever abandoned goods they can find. Police chief Kenneth Hicks believes the brothers are responsible for the bank robbery, not to mention the corresponding bodies. They’ve definitely kidnapped someone, as Hicks and Lt. Johnny Lloyd soon discover, and only get more desperate and dangerous when they realize the cops are after them. Tori and radio DJ Oscar Alphonse “King” Desario may be potential abductees, for leverage or something worse. The moody story benefits from its atmospheric setting. What exactly sparked an apparent evacuation, for example, isn’t fully revealed until the end. There are hints of possible causes—someone suggests a Russian invasion or perhaps aliens—all shrouded with an undercurrent of sheer creepiness, like an initially unexplained “blob” following girls at the camp. Solidly developed characters add to the tension, people either wanting to escape their past or hopelessly locked inside it. Billy, for one, longs for the days with Becky, his partner (now dead) in both crime and love and Tori’s mom, while King’s girlfriend, Janice, is itching to flee Mammoth View—and maybe the DJ as well. Various players cross paths in intriguing, sometimes amusing ways (Janice in nearby Stockton meets someone readers will recognize), and most find their ways, reluctantly or not, back to Mammoth View.

Bursting with vigor and electrified characters and with an ending the author stamps with a knowing wink.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9972377-1-9

Page Count: 366

Publisher: Amberjack Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 30, 2016

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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