A compelling historical setting and subject hampered by awkward prose.

READ REVIEW

THE STOCKTON INSANE ASYLUM MURDER

From the Portia of the Pacific Historical Mysteries series , Vol. 3

In this third installment of a mystery series, a 19th-century San Francisco attorney and detective leads an investigation into abusive practices at an insane asylum.

In San Francisco in 1887, an unusual crew occupies 1 Nob Hill, the mansion built by railroad magnate Mark Hopkins. His widow, Mary, lives there but has dementia and serves as “benefactress” to the other occupants: Clara Foltz, California’s first female lawyer, a single mother, and the true head of the household; her brood of children; and her best friend, Ah Toy, a former Chinatown madam. With some help—including psychic assistance—the group has solved some difficult cases. Now Clara’s daughter Bertha May, 17, is pretending to be mentally unstable at the Stockton State Insane Asylum, where her friend Polly Bedford, 12, has been committed by her parents after witnessing the murder of Winnifred Cotton, 10, a Nob Hill neighbor. Bertha’s mission is to discover what Polly really saw, and the whole team wants to expose illegal commitments targeting wives, children, and immigrants. To that end, they form a citizens’ committee as the public face of the investigation while continuing undercover work. What they discover goes beyond the iniquities of false commitments into some bizarre territory—including spiritualism, telepathy, conjoined twins, and elaborate experiments carried out by eugenicists Francis Galton and Dr. Emil Kraepelin. Can justice be served? Musgrave (The Spiritualist Murders, 2018, etc.) has some potent ingredients in this fantastical stew, spiced with many real-life figures, like Foltz, Toy, Galton, Kraepelin, and Elizabeth Packard, who helped reform commitment laws in the 1860s after being confined to an asylum when she questioned her husband’s opinions. The setting is atmospheric and the subject, captivating. But clumsy writing (“Their diaphragms undulating their bosoms”), a painful German accent (“Bzychozis can ofden pe proken ven zee badient exberiences zee traumatic effent akain”), anachronisms (the terms “sexist” and “racist”), and murky paranormal phenomena mar the story. And, despite their association with eugenics, Galton and Kraepelin don’t deserve such grotesque caricatures.

A compelling historical setting and subject hampered by awkward prose.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-943457-38-0

Page Count: 289

Publisher: EMRE Publishing Fiction

Review Posted Online: March 11, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

Did you like this book?

more