A promising thriller about a famous serial killer in which the suspense prematurely dissipates.

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A novel offers a new perspective on one of history’s most notorious figures.

This 19th-century tale starts innocently enough with two Malay boys, lonely rich kid Maurice and Mawken, the poor local boy he befriends. At first, Maurice educates the illiterate Mawken, who in turn gives him advice. But as Maurice grows up, he yearns to strike out on his own and to leave Mawken behind. Before that can happen, the two end up on the run after the mysterious murders of their parents, supposedly by pirates and witnessed only by Mawken. The two find work on a cargo ship, with Maurice as a cook and Mawken as a crew member. Partway through the journey, Maurice witnesses Mawken kill the ship’s brutal captain, but he stupidly picks up the murder weapon and is blamed for the crime by his fellow crewmates. Luckily, a storm severely damages the ship and Maurice is briefly free of his past. Then Mawken shows up again, and death follows him, with the kindly but weak-willed Maurice unable to escape his dangerous friend: “There was no question or indication I had any recourse but to follow his plan. It was as if he made the decisions and I meekly followed.” Maurice is the unfortunate observer of a series of gruesome murders of women, first in Austin, Texas, and later in the slums of London, which leads to the Jack the Ripper mythos. The strength of Lee’s (Aquasaurus, 2016, etc.) intriguing second novel is the well-researched, vivid passages describing life aboard a cargo ship and in 19th-century Austin and London. The narrative moves along swimmingly in those parts. But the author tips his twist ending way too soon. In addition, anyone who gets close to Maurice tends to disappear quickly, sometimes permanently, while Mawken prefers to stay in the shadows (“I am not seen if I don’t want to be seen”). This means there isn’t much of a cast to experience other than the two polar-opposite main characters. The key question that remains is how long will it take Maurice to realize what readers already have.

A promising thriller about a famous serial killer in which the suspense prematurely dissipates.

Pub Date: July 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9971284-8-2

Page Count: 354

Publisher: Aim-Hi Publishing

Review Posted Online: March 14, 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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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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