Eccentricity at its finest in a detective story and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.

Mr. Mayhem


A publicist for a crime tour drums up business by hiring a mercy killer, but his murderous employee may be choosing his own victims in this thriller.

Former investigative journalist Brinker hasn’t found much work since losing his newspaper job, having accused his boss of bribing cops over a reputed DUI. His newest gig entails public relations for Pennsylvania funeral home owner and local coroner Frank Mabry’s Seen of the Crime, a tour of murder sites. A lack of sensational murders has kept business down, but Brinker’s doctor, Timothy Jolley, has an idea: spruce up the tour by paying someone to kill terminal patients. The doctor will bankroll it, and Brinker can clear his debt, courtesy of a lawsuit relating to that DUI allegation. Seen of the Crime sees more tourists, but Brinker soon will have to stop a commissioned serial killer who may no longer be using Jolley’s victim list. The novel is a detective story with a darkly humorous twist; Brinker’s unquestionably responsible for the killing spree, but most of it is as much a mystery to him as it is to readers. He, for one, hires the murderer (dubbed Angel, for Angel of Death) through pal Stanislaw Niemoczynski and doesn’t know Angel’s true identity. There’s likewise a sinister pattern to the later, seemingly random murders, something that Brinker will have to unravel. He’s essentially the detective, and he’s a tad shadier than the shadiest of cinematic gumshoes. Not only does he know about the murders beforehand, Brinker also repeatedly beds various women with emotional detachment and prints and intends to sell I SHOT THE SHERIFF T-shirts, corresponding to a recent victim. Despite this, the protagonist remains likable, particularly because his firing from the newspaper was unjust and he cares for his ailing grandmother. And he’s still the hero, in a prime position to thwart the murders, even if it means becoming the unhinged killer’s next target. The story is somber but self-assured, like a film noir with a stylized, shadowy atmosphere. Widmer (Riding with the Blues, 2015, etc.) rounds out Brinker by outfitting him with snazzy dialogue: Mabry rejects upping revenue with crime re-enactments, noting that the tour’s “authentic,” to which Brinker coolly responds, “So is bankruptcy.”

Eccentricity at its finest in a detective story and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-9964987-4-6

Page Count: 282

Publisher: Allusion Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2016

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...


Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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