From the authors of The Court of the Lion (1989): another wittily plotted and peopled, richly entertaining scan of base acts in high places in ancient China, this set during the seventh- century ascendancy and blistering reign of the Empress Wu. Meanwhile, ever so carefully circling amongst webs of deception and evil deeds is the sleuth/magistrate Dee Jen-Chieh (a real personage also seen in Robert Van Gulik's Judge Dee mysteries series). ``It is interesting to sit in the presence of a true killer,'' magistrate Dee will remark of the Empress Wu after his own days of turmoil are over. But long before his first one-on-one view of Wu, Dee is launched upon sleuthing an ever-accelerating series of crimes after he witnesses the execution of a pathetic, betrayed, simple gardener. And in the imperial city Loyang, the wee newborn daughter of the Lady Wu (consort of the Emperor Kaotsung), is dispatched by Mummy with suffocation. As the Lady Wu wafts upward toward Empress—thanks to the counsel of her mother, Mme. Yang; an icy, unclouded ambition; and tactical brilliance—various relatives, sons, and lovers—as well as an Emperor and his venerable powerful advisors—fall like sheaves. The intrigued magistrate, already involved in solving the murders of wealthy ``suicides'' found floating in the canal, suggests that Tibetan monk/magician Hsueh Huai-i spy in the palace Loyang. (The monk is also a real person—a Rasputin to the Empress.) Eventually, Hsueh blooms in royal favor and gains political control over all agencies of a state religion, encouraging a kind of extravagant practice of Buddhism—in the light of rationalist Confucianism, an ``alien'' excess. Hsueh, however, has an even darker obsession. Skillfully, Dee solves horrendous murders, escapes death himself, suffers his own awful family, lures the corrupt into his net—and, at the last, sees into the heart of Wu: ``Like an ancient cave uninhabited for centuries, a stillness and emptiness....'' In concept, balance, and wit: a simply splendid entertainment.

Pub Date: May 19, 1993

ISBN: 0-688-08938-0

Page Count: 594

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1993

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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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