Another tale of incisive sleuths that’s short but thoroughly enjoyable.



In Chen’s (An Intangible Affair, 2017, etc.) latest series installment, Bostonian amateur detective and biologist Ann Lee sets out to prove the innocence of a friend accused of murder.

Ann knows that potential in-laws can be burdensome; after all, her former boyfriend’s stepmother turned out to be a killer in a previous book in this series. So she understands when her friend Betty Foreman is stressed by her fiance Peter Shi’s mom, Emily. Betty thinks that the overprotective parent has made her son a “mama’s boy”; indeed, Peter takes his mother’s side whenever she and Betty have an argument. It’s not surprising that Betty is a suspect after Emily’s body is discovered at the bottom of a flight of stairs. The dying woman’s 911 call, in which she named Betty as her murderer, only solidifies the police’s case. But Ann believes Betty’s claim of innocence; she says that she argued with Emily on the day in question but left when the old woman threw a vase at her. With Betty’s trial imminent, Ann decides to try to debunk the damning evidence against her. Luckily, she has help from her best friend and partner at their detective agency, Fang Chen, who’s a chemist as well. The investigation involves interviewing Emily’s neighbor, who called 911 regarding the women’s loud squabble, and talking to Emily’s sister in Hong Kong. As in preceding novels in this series, Chen delivers a brisk story with a simple but tight mystery that’s often heavy on dialogue. Along the way, the author has Ann meticulously develop a theory to fit the evidence—that is, one in which Betty isn’t guilty of murder. Romantic relationships also complicate matters, as Ann is currently dating Betty’s older brother, Seth Foreman. Ann’s investigation, along with Fang Chen’s input, has an organic feel: Every conjecture has a clear source, and nothing that she deduces feels like a wild guess. Still, the ending, while plausible, gets a bit convoluted as Ann juggles multiple theories of the crime.

Another tale of incisive sleuths that’s short but thoroughly enjoyable.

Pub Date: June 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-71863-069-7

Page Count: 220

Publisher: Back Bay Investigation

Review Posted Online: June 11, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

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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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