A thoughtful but meandering family tale.

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THICKER THAN MUD

An archaeologist wrestles with a cascade of emotionally challenging problems and makes a potentially significant historical discovery in this debut novel. 

While on an archaeological dig in Israel, Adam Drascher, a professor of religious studies, examines a piece of ceramic collected by an eager graduate student named Maggie. It turns out to be a spectacular find: an eighth-century piece adorned with an ancient Hebrew inscription that refers to a group that called itself the “Healers” and lived in the Holy Land before the Israelites. But Adam receives a troubling call that his grandfather Hank is terribly ill and that he should rush home to Queens. Danny Blumberg—a contemporary of Adam’s who was all but adopted by Hank when he became estranged from his own family—delivers the news, much to Adam’s chagrin, since he always resented the man’s closeness to his grandfather. Hank was like a father to both boys—after Adam’s parents died, he became the child’s custodian. Hank dies and leaves a cassette recording for Adam that reveals his suspicion that Danny is his brother, the result of his father’s adulterous affair. This is information Adam isn’t anxious to disclose. When Danny is arrested for brutally beating up his wife’s lover, Adam twists the truth of what happened to protect him, a loyal move that potentially places him in legal jeopardy, a complex moral conundrum intelligently depicted by Morris. Meanwhile, Adam struggles to make tenure, a predicament only worsened when his mentor, Claudia Renaud, takes sole credit for the artifact they jointly identified. The author artfully blends intriguing civilization history and personal drama—Adam intentionally excavates the former and is compelled by circumstances to confront the latter. His utter exasperation is movingly palpable: “I don’t break bones and put people in the hospital. I don’t conspire. I don’t ambush. I don’t get interrogated by the police, or kidnapped, or whatever the hell this is. But somehow, I’m waist deep in this shit.” While brimming with psychological nuances, the story is unfortunately weighed down by too many detours—a police officer investigating Danny sets Adam up with her niece on a blind date, an unlikely and unnecessary turn of events.

A thoughtful but meandering family tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 302

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2019

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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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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