Detailed yet quick-moving, MacManus’ tense, morally charged narrative ends with a possible sequel in sight.

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MIDNIGHT IN BERLIN

In 1938, British army Col. Noel Macrae, a decorated World War I veteran, takes on an assignment as military attaché to the Berlin embassy.

As Hitler annexes Austria and then gobbles up Czechoslovakia, Macrae travels the embassy cocktail circuit, picking up bits from the shadows where double agents lurk. From one well-placed source, an old-family Prussian officer, Macrae learns the German High Command opposes Hitler’s reckless expansionism. There are rumblings that a coup d'état could depose Hitler if France and England stand firm. Macrae believes the information accurate and argues that mad Hitler must see "the mailed fist." That makes him an outlier among British diplomats and politicians supporting appeasement, especially the ambassador, Sir Nevile Henderson, an avid supporter of Chamberlain’s policies. There’s a second, equally powerful, plotline. The beautiful young Sara Sternsheins, who curses herself as "a Jewish whore in a Nazi bordello," has prostituted herself to keep her jailed twin brother from execution. She’s become the particular target of abuse by SS leader Reinhard Heydrich, a man of "pure and unadulterated" evil, "as cold as a mountain stream." With his own marriage imploding, it’s no surprise Macrae turns to Sara. Taking in the Brandenburg Gate, classy apartments along the Wilhelmstrasse, and covert strolls through the Tiergarten, MacManus (Sleep in Peace Tonight, 2014, etc.) sets the "dark soul" of Nazi Berlin as his backdrop, using historical characters like the brilliant historian William Shirer and the flamboyant Hermann Göring to strengthen his fictional cast—Macrae, Sara, and the brilliant secret service agent Roger Halliday, a "shambolic wreck" whose vulgarity hides a cool, cutting intellect. It’s worth noting, too, that MacManus gives ample space to dissecting how underlying European anti-Semitism left the Jewish question to be answered in concentration camps.

Detailed yet quick-moving, MacManus’ tense, morally charged narrative ends with a possible sequel in sight. 

Pub Date: April 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-250-07940-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dunne/St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2016

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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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Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s...

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THE NICKEL BOYS

The acclaimed author of The Underground Railroad (2016) follows up with a leaner, meaner saga of Deep South captivity set in the mid-20th century and fraught with horrors more chilling for being based on true-life atrocities.

Elwood Curtis is a law-abiding, teenage paragon of rectitude, an avid reader of encyclopedias and after-school worker diligently overcoming hardships that come from being abandoned by his parents and growing up black and poor in segregated Tallahassee, Florida. It’s the early 1960s, and Elwood can feel changes coming every time he listens to an LP of his hero Martin Luther King Jr. sermonizing about breaking down racial barriers. But while hitchhiking to his first day of classes at a nearby black college, Elwood accepts a ride in what turns out to be a stolen car and is sentenced to the Nickel Academy, a juvenile reformatory that looks somewhat like the campus he’d almost attended but turns out to be a monstrously racist institution whose students, white and black alike, are brutally beaten, sexually abused, and used by the school’s two-faced officials to steal food and supplies. At first, Elwood thinks he can work his way past the arbitrary punishments and sadistic treatment (“I am stuck here, but I’ll make the best of it…and I’ll make it brief”). He befriends another black inmate, a street-wise kid he knows only as Turner, who has a different take on withstanding Nickel: “The key to in here is the same as surviving out there—you got to see how people act, and then you got to figure out how to get around them like an obstacle course.” And if you defy them, Turner warns, you’ll get taken “out back” and are never seen or heard from again. Both Elwood’s idealism and Turner’s cynicism entwine into an alliance that compels drastic action—and a shared destiny. There's something a tad more melodramatic in this book's conception (and resolution) than one expects from Whitehead, giving it a drugstore-paperback glossiness that enhances its blunt-edged impact.

Inspired by disclosures of a real-life Florida reform school’s long-standing corruption and abusive practices, Whitehead’s novel displays its author’s facility with violent imagery and his skill at weaving narrative strands into an ingenious if disquieting whole.

Pub Date: July 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-385-53707-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2019

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