A sufficient mystery elevated by a pragmatic and able heroine.

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GHOST NEXT DOOR

From the Alice MacDonald Greer Mystery Series series , Vol. 5

A Texas lawyer becomes embroiled in a case of murder, arson, and deceit in this fifth installment of a thriller series.

Attorney Alice MacDonald Greer is chairing the Rules Committee at the First Annual Coffee Creek Barbecue Competition. She’s anticipating the occasional complaint but certainly not the body she stumbles on. The murder victim is John Pine, a food writer who had made a few enemies, including two renowned chefs acting as guest judges for the competition. Unfortunately, locals suspect Alice’s friend M.A. Ellison of the homicide, as she has an unmistakable link to the murder weapon. This gives Alice incentive to identify the real killer, but she already has her hands full. She has lost at least some business, likely due to the influence of Coffee Creek banker Clay Black. He thinks Alice is supporting her pal Red Griffin, a CPA who’s running against Clay in the election for the electric co-op board. Alice is also representing Clay’s estranged nephew, Caswell Bond, who just closed on a ranch that the banker had been interested in purchasing. This is the same property with a house that someone later decides to torch, and soon Alice is looking for a murderer and an arsonist—quite possibly the same person. Foster’s (Ghost Dagger, 2017, etc.) recurring protagonist deftly handles multiple tasks and hurdles. Not only is she running her law practice and tracking down criminals, she also finds herself in peril, as when someone shoots at her. The progressively complicated—though never convoluted—story ultimately includes drones and espionage. While who’s behind most or all of these activities isn’t particularly surprising, watching Alice piece together the puzzle is riveting, as the tale showcases her sharp reasoning. Alice and her friends are often refreshingly blunt, prompting the book’s crisp dialogue. For example, Red, who may be regretting her bid for the co-op board, informs Alice: “If ever again I tell you I want to run for anything, dogcatcher, whatever, just shoot me.”

A sufficient mystery elevated by a pragmatic and able heroine.

Pub Date: Sept. 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-692-16827-1

Page Count: 276

Publisher: Stuart's Creek Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 8, 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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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

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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