The simple plot is merely a foundation for intriguing characters who provide the real experience.


The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

In Bingham’s (Love Story, With Murders, 2014, etc.) latest thriller, South Wales DC Fiona Griffiths’ third outing finds her undercover trying to expose a group committing computer fraud and leaving bodies in its wake.

A payroll scam in which a store was unknowingly making payments to nonemployees is a case for the Fraud Squad, not usually for DC Griffiths of Major Crime. But when one of those names turns out to be a woman who’s died of starvation, Fiona is determined to stop those guilty of, if nothing else, what she considers to be manslaughter. Her persistence on the case leads to the discovery of what is irrefutably murder and the ultimate realization that the embezzlement is much bigger, including fraudulent names among numerous companies. Fiona, having successfully passed a rigorous undercover training course, gets a job as a cleaner, then in payroll, both as Fiona Grey. Sure enough, she’s approached by Vic Henderson, representing a nefarious band of thieving crooks. But Fiona, who suffers from a mental illness that renders her emotionless, may be in more danger of losing herself in her new identity. The author’s story is fairly straightforward; it’s primarily a question of who—be it Vic or any of the associates Fiona eventually encounters—is the brains behind the fraud. What makes the novel an exceptional piece of work are its characters, particularly the absorbing protagonist. Even with Fiona’s first-person perspective, readers are given only a glimpse of her mindset. Fiona, for instance, recognizes the feeling of fear, but when she’s threatened by Vic, fear becomes an enhanced sensation that’s more substantial and natural in her Grey persona. Likewise, the dual identities in the story are perpetually oscillating, as a seemingly indecisive Fiona will at different times refer both to herself and Fiona Grey in the third-person—a struggle later augmented when she goes deeper undercover with yet another identity. As fascinating as Fiona is, she’s matched by her villainous counterpart. Vic’s lust for Fiona seems genuine, but he eludes police attention and remains ambiguous, a quality that’s sometimes unnerving. When Fiona asks whether he’s killed someone, he dubiously responds, “Not necessarily me.” Fiona’s narrative sears the pages with indelible assertions: “Deception is so easy, I wonder why it isn’t more common.”

The simple plot is merely a foundation for intriguing characters who provide the real experience.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2015


Page Count: 391

Publisher: Sheep Street Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

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


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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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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