An uneven Tex-Mex mystery, though the hero has plenty to offer.

MURDER ON THE SKY RIDE

Former nonfiction writer Hewitt’s (Rescuing Slaves of the Watchtower, 2011, etc.) grasp of Lone Star State peculiarities—Tex-Mex culture and politics; things only oilmen know—highlight this messy, 1970s murder mystery.

At first glance, it appears to be a case of drug-lord retribution: 32-year-old Texas Ranger Enrique “Gar” Garcia locked up Hispanic politician Reynaldo Diaz for marijuana smuggling and now, unbeknownst to him, he’s being tailed by Diaz’s revenge-bent brothers. But the plot shifts when, after posting bail, Diaz is offed by assassins posing as FBI agents. The murder is an over-the-top horror, with Diaz noosed to the cable system of an amusement park’s Sky Ride, the aerial cable cars that span the San Marcos River; the cable severs, jerking Diaz’s head from his body and sending it flying through the treetops. The Sky Ride cars plummet, killing or injuring many of the unlucky folks on board—which raises the possibility that one of them, not Diaz, might’ve been the intended target. Garcia’s ensuing investigation benefits from Hewitt’s knowledge of police work and Texas: He notes that the assassin was sweating profusely inside an over-air-conditioned local restaurant before the murder, then used a wood block made of ironwood, found only in South Texas and Mexico, and finally tied Diaz to the cable using an oil-field roughneck’s knot. He also gives Garcia authentic Texan heritage, from his great-great-grandfather’s role in the Battle of the Alamo to his brother Joe’s Chicano dialect. But politics can muddy the plot, too: It’s difficult to gauge whether the mystery is really about Diaz or about some other misdeed, and it’s baffling when the clues take shape as something much more pedestrian than what Hewitt had originally orchestrated. Secondary characters can feel stereotypical (for example, the members of one no-good trio are named Anglo, Hispanic and Black), and sudden shifts from one scene to another can be jarring, as can rampant grammatical mistakes.

An uneven Tex-Mex mystery, though the hero has plenty to offer.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2013

ISBN: 978-1481183178

Page Count: 326

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: March 21, 2013

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

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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The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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A LITTLE LIFE

Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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