Consistently riveting—whether the protagonist contends with baddies or hones his skills in the courtroom.

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JUSTICE BY THE POUND

From the Noah Shane Thriller series

A public defender’s first case concerns a fairly routine burglary until the prosecutor adds murder charges in this legal thriller.

Noah Shane nearly loses his new job as assistant public defender before it’s even begun. The flu-ridden lawyer misses his first two days, then braves the nausea to make it to the Public Defender’s office in Alameda County, California. His initial assignment is interviewing 23-year-old Pablo Ruiz, who’s in jail for allegedly swiping 300 pounds of butter from a dairy truck. The circumstances are unusual, but it’s a case Noah believes he can handle, especially if a plea bargain is on the table. But Noah is suddenly facing the district attorney’s chief trial deputy, Marco Salem, who amends the charges against Pablo to include murder in the first degree. The case now involves the bullet-riddled body of noted stockbroker Warren Van Zandt. Despite overwhelming evidence against Pablo, such as his fingerprints in Van Zandt’s condo, he denies even knowing the broker. Noah feels a more experienced lawyer should take the reins of a murder case, but his boss, Jim Stark, dismisses that suggestion. In fact, Stark demands that Noah take the prosecutor’s eventual plea offer. But Noah is determined to see things through even when he suspects his client isn’t telling him everything. Working closely with legal investigator Buzz Hoogasian, Noah starts unraveling the murder mystery. But certain individuals who want the case to go away resort to despicable tactics, from intimidation and threats to something decidedly more lethal. Weinberg’s (A Grateful Nation, 2015) story, a prequel to his earlier novel featuring the public defender, is an all-round solid thriller. Well-established villains, for one, are an unquestionable menace, trying to force Noah into submission by targeting his friends. At the same time, Van Zandt’s killer is not immediately known, leading to unnerving instances of Noah’s pondering the notion that Pablo is indeed guilty. The protagonist is admirable but grounded—a diligent lawyer prone to making mistakes. These flubs actually earn him sympathy: He’s the new guy at work and, with no one to guide him, learning as he goes along. Weinberg perfectly captures Noah’s first days on the job: He wisely gets help from whomever he can, including Stark’s accommodating assistant, Bobbi Matthews, and constantly worries about proper court procedure. But the tale’s pre-eminent scenes involve Noah’s jailhouse visits; just getting to Pablo is a process rife with meticulous steps and reminiscent of the slow but assiduous murder trial. They moreover showcase the story’s effectively prolonged moments: Pablo “reached into the left breast pocket of his jumpsuit and removed a worn, creased paper. He unfolded carefully, probably for the hundredth time, and flattened it on the table.” Supporting characters shine, particularly Buzz and Kate Waverly, Noah’s law school friend. A recovering alcoholic, Buzz has one-sided conversations with the rubber duck hanging from his car’s rearview mirror. Meanwhile, Noah’s relationship with potential lover Kate is complicated by Stark. He takes a shine to her but not so much to Noah.

Consistently riveting—whether the protagonist contends with baddies or hones his skills in the courtroom.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-944377-11-3

Page Count: 426

Publisher: Curtis Brown Unlimited

Review Posted Online: July 3, 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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