Smart ideas, great characters, shaky storytelling.

LONG BLACK VEIL

A return to fiction by the author of Stuck in the Middle with You: A Memoir of Parenting in Three Genders (2013) and She’s Not There: A Life in Two Genders (2003).

It’s 1980, the day after Casey and Wailer’s wedding. Led by their friend Tripper, they decide to visit the ruins of Philadelphia’s Eastern State Penitentiary. These recent college graduates are joined by their friends Maisie, Rachel, and Quentin, as well as the young men’s high school German teacher, the elderly Herr Krystal, and Maisie’s 10-year-old brother, Ben. While they’re exploring, they discover that they’ve been locked inside the prison, and before they’re released, one of them will go missing. After this tragedy, the friends drift apart only to be brought back together—decades later—when a body surfaces, the disappearance is revealed to be a homicide, and one of the group is the chief suspect. This is a nifty little setup for a thriller, and Boylan uses the murder mystery as a frame for interrogating our ideas about identity in ways that are both thoughtful and darkly comic. A trans woman, Boylan is best known as a memoirist and an activist, and the trans character in this novel adds a layer of intrigue and complexity. In order to serve as an alibi for her old friend, the person now known as Judith Carrigan will have to come out—to her husband, to their son, and to the world. Boylan is skilled at creating intriguing, three-dimensional characters; even those who prove to be inconsequential emerge as real, unique individuals, but in the end, character development rather overwhelms the plot. The resolution of the central mystery is anticlimactic, and as the story continues to chug along anyway, it becomes more and more dependent on coincidence and narrative leaps that are difficult to believe. Still, it’s hard to stop reading as these well-crafted characters confront middle age while confronting the defining event of their youth.

Smart ideas, great characters, shaky storytelling.

Pub Date: April 11, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-451-49634-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how...

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THE A LIST

A convicted killer’s list of five people he wants dead runs the gamut from the wife he’s already had murdered to franchise heroine Ali Reynolds.

Back in the day, women came from all over to consult Santa Clarita fertility specialist Dr. Edward Gilchrist. Many of them left his care happily pregnant, never dreaming that the father of the babies they carried was none other than the physician himself, who donated his own sperm rather than that of the handsome, athletic, disease-free men pictured in his scrapbook. When Alexandra Munsey’s son, Evan, is laid low by the kidney disease he’s inherited from his biological father and she returns to Gilchrist in search of the donor’s medical records, the roof begins to fall in on him. By the time it’s done falling, he’s serving a life sentence in Folsom Prison for commissioning the death of his wife, Dawn, the former nurse and sometime egg donor who’d turned on him. With nothing left to lose, Gilchrist tattoos himself with the initials of five people he blames for his fall: Dawn; Leo Manuel Aurelio, the hit man he’d hired to dispose of her; Kaitlyn Todd, the nurse/receptionist who took Dawn’s place; Alex Munsey, whose search for records upset his apple cart; and Ali Reynolds, the TV reporter who’d helped put Alex in touch with the dozen other women who formed the Progeny Project because their children looked just like hers. No matter that Ali’s been out of both California and the news business for years; Gilchrist and his enablers know that revenge can’t possibly be served too cold. Wonder how far down that list they’ll get before Ali, aided once more by Frigg, the methodical but loose-cannon AI first introduced in Duel to the Death (2018), turns on them?

Proficient but eminently predictable. Amid all the time shifts and embedded backstories, the most surprising feature is how little the boundary-challenged AI, who gets into the case more or less inadvertently, differs from your standard human sidekick with issues.

Pub Date: April 2, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5101-9

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 19, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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