The returning investigators have little to do, but readers gain an emotionally rich tale of ill-fated love.

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An Intangible Affair

From the Back Bay Investigation series , Vol. 4

Two amateur detectives wonder whether a married couple’s isolated deaths were more than an accident and suicide in Chen’s (Death Comes to Lake Como, 2016, etc.) mystery-drama.

Fang Chen’s understandably distraught when hearing the news that his scientist pal Jim Ting has committed suicide. Having known Jim since they were Boston University housemates decades earlier, Fang Chen doesn’t believe Jim’s the type to kill himself. The scientist, who’d spent years on a new cancer drug, recently lost his wife, Dory, who’d succumbed to a venomous snakebite. This leads to speculation that Jim’s death was indeed a suicide, stemming from guilt over having murdered his wife. But there may be another reason: Jim had carried on a decadeslong affair with CPA Jamie Chou. Flashbacks reveal Jamie and already-married Jim first meeting at BU and the inevitable start of their affair. Despite having boyfriends and even living with a man, Jamie truly loves Jim and looks forward to their getaways, which wane in frequency as the years pass. Jim’s reluctant to leave Dory, at least not until their three children are grown and living independently, while an increasingly despondent Jamie considers the likelihood that he will never get a divorce. But does any of this amount to murder? Amateur sleuths Ann Lee and Fang Chen are determined to find out. The author takes a strange but intriguing approach this time with her recurring protagonists, as Ann and Fang Chen appear only sporadically. They’re mere observers, a literal role for Fang Chen during Jim and Jamie’s initial encounter. The story centers on Jamie, with readers privy to numerous glimpses of her life and musings, most of which the detectives don’t know. As a melodrama, it soars, providing sympathy for two characters engaged in an extramarital affair. Jamie, in particular, struggles as an immigrant, watching a less-experienced co-worker (and a U.S. citizen) bypass her professionally. The mystery, meanwhile, sits primarily on the back burner, and Ann acknowledges that the solution she eventually volunteers is conjecture. Readers, however, do get answers, and the end result for Jamie is both fascinating and sad.

The returning investigators have little to do, but readers gain an emotionally rich tale of ill-fated love.

Pub Date: Feb. 1, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 148

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Dec. 6, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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