Solid characters steer a tantalizing mystery that’s unhurried but more than worth its while.

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THE MOSQUITO BITES

A MYSTERY NOVEL

In this debut thriller, recent hires at a chemical company learn there may be a coverup regarding a new product’s nasty side effects.

Alex Gregory’s doctorate in statistics and minor in chemistry earn him his first “ ‘real’ job” at Sterling Chemicals, overseeing pesticide field testing and data analysis. Small-town Alex has barely settled into his New York City high-rise office when he gets a strange call from Cindy, the widow of Dr. Peter Hudson, whose fatal heart attack vacated the position Alex now holds. Cindy, trying to reach HR, inadvertently dials Peter’s number and reaches Alex, a complete stranger with whom she’d like to talk about her deceased husband. At a coffee shop, she claims Peter was too close to something at Sterling, and his death was actually murder. The new administrative assistant (and Alex’s potential romantic interest), Leslie Sherwood, hears of another former employee’s unusual exit—Dawn Manning simply stopped showing up at work. Meanwhile, Alex and Leslie are unnerved by a blue-shirted man who they’re fairly certain is following them. All of this likely stems from a pesticide in development, with a high kill rate for bugs but whose potential lethalness for humans Sterling may have intentionally buried. The tale’s measured pace deftly establishes characters (Alex and Leslie bond during the company’s dreary orientation) and plot (employees suspiciously avoid any discussion about Peter). Frazee’s details are sometimes excessive, like specifics on how to run an espresso machine. But the introduction of a slowly approaching menace is effective, namely the recurring man in the discernible blue shirt, who’s innocuous at first but decidedly more frightening once Sterling workers link him to probable murder. The mystery, too, is both alluring and appropriate in its white-collar relevance: a document inexplicably missing from a file signifies something sinister, while another one hidden in Alex’s office is pure intrigue. The ending, though a bit rushed, is realistic and left predominantly open.

Solid characters steer a tantalizing mystery that’s unhurried but more than worth its while.

Pub Date: Jan. 9, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-63524-636-0

Page Count: -

Publisher: LitFire Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 26, 2017

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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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