These resolute protagonists and self-proclaimed mystery buffs should certainly appeal to genre fans.

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Death Comes to Lake Como

The latest murder case for amateur detectives Ann Lee and Fang Chen takes them on an intercontinental investigation in this thriller.

Ann’s gumshoe partner/best friend, Fang Chen, and ex-roommate Jane Tian are newlyweds honeymooning at an Italian hotel facing Lake Como. Email correspondence between the friends begins as touristy descriptions but soon zeroes in on intrigue: someone finds nurse Tina Xin’s body floating in the lake. Ann and Fang Chen both suspect foul play, which authorities later confirm, but he can’t do much investigating in a foreign country. However, by sheer fortuity, Ann’s apartment neighbor in Boston, Lao Xin, is Tina’s brother. A postcard from Tina suggests that she’d found the female Red Guard who killed their mother during the Cultural Revolution, but before Xin can provide Ann with specifics, he’s dead from an overdose. Ann’s convinced that the murderer is covering her tracks, starting with Tina’s possible blackmail in Italy. But she needs to find the elusive Red Guard first. Using Xin’s address book, Ann contacts names from the U.S., while Fang Chen, in China for his and Jane’s wedding party (courtesy of her mother), takes a solo excursion to Shanghai. If Ann can’t gather rock-solid evidence, though, she’ll have to extract a confession from a killer. The author (The Fatal Sin of Love, 2015, etc.) excels at understated mysteries, exemplified by series protagonist Ann, a nondrinker who prefers quiet get-togethers but happens to be an exceptional sleuth. The novelist takes a rather charming approach this time, detailing Ann’s ongoing emails with Jane and messages to Fang Chen. The former consist primarily of Ann describing Italian scenery or her meeting with boyfriend Alan Rourke’s parents, while the latter tend to focus on juicy morsels of the murder case, including someone’s shady past. Notwithstanding, it’s an omniscient narrative that further deepens the mystery: nosy neighbor Ms. Brown may become a witness, and series regular DS Paul Winderman assists with much-needed background checks. Ann could be putting herself in danger near the end, beefing up suspense. And despite a later plot turn that relies a little too heavily on coincidence, the resolution satisfies both logically and dramatically.

These resolute protagonists and self-proclaimed mystery buffs should certainly appeal to genre fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 20, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 150

Publisher: Back Bay Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 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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