A thoroughly enjoyable page-turner.

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JUSTICE MAKES A KILLING

A BOBBY EARL NOVEL

For-profit prisons lie at the center of this second legal thriller in a series featuring Los Angeles defense attorney Bobby Earl.

Rucker (The Inevitable Witness, 2017), a criminal defense lawyer who’s had some high-profile trials during his long career, introduced his fictional lawyer in his previous novel, which had a case involving a safecracker charged with killing a police officer. In his late 30s, Earl finds the high-stakes intensity of the courtroom to be addictive: “There was a hunger in him that only being a trial lawyer satisfied.” He aligns himself with the less-privileged in life, so 50-something Kate Carlson isn’t like his usual clients; she’s a partner in an LA law firm. She’s also a spokesperson for Proposition 53, a California ballot initiative that would take money from for-profit prisons to fund public schools. She’s been charged with murder for smuggling a gun and a map into Haywood State Prison to break out an inmate named Adam Hartman. The attempt was foiled, resulting in the death of Hartman and a guard, Travis Miller. Kate says that she was set up, and Earl is skeptical of her claim, but she presents him with a follow-the-money argument that might just be solid: Prop. 53 would take funding away from private prison corporations, from locals who depend on prison employment, and from the prison guards’ union, whose dues buy the political influence that keeps profits flowing—by, for example, passing longer sentencing laws. Still, proving a setup will be difficult, especially as his opponents play dirty and will stop at nothing to claim victory. That said, Earl is known for winning supposedly unwinnable cases. The novel’s plot is enjoyably complex, referencing contemporary issues that go beyond schools and prisons: “The big money, the fuck you money, is in housing illegals for the feds,” says the corporate counsel for the company that runs Haywood. Also, federal oversight could expose abuses in private prisons—something that Hartman and Kate could have brought to light if the escape had been successful. The classic courtroom drama at the heart of this story is perfectly orchestrated, and the seemingly impossible odds make Earl’s masterful handling of evidence, witnesses, opposing counsel, the jury, and the judge wonderfully satisfying to read. Rucker has a knack for explaining the minutiae of legal procedure clearly as he weaves them into the story. The novel also ratchets up suspense in several effective ways; for example, Kate’s enemies knock Earl out, drug him, and get him locked up on a 72-hour psychiatric hold from which he must escape while not alerting the media. Other sides of Earl’s character are seen in, for example, his naming of his hound dog; when the canine was a puppy, Earl kept proclaiming “’Henceforth, your name shall be...’” until “the only name to which the dog would respond was ‘Henceforth.’ ” The affection and loyalty of Earl’s team, including secretary Martha Sullivan, officemate/mentor James McManis, and investigator Arthur “Manny” Munoz, also subtly reveal his personal qualities.

A thoroughly enjoyable page-turner.

Pub Date: July 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73291-390-5

Page Count: 255

Publisher: Chickadee Prince Books

Review Posted Online: Feb. 2, 2019

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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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