A compelling economic theory wrapped in a shopworn plot.

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THE LEVEL PLAYING FIELD

In Kingston’s debut thriller, an American investigates a secret society that controls Japan’s economy. 

Economist Scott Maxwell is attempting to devise a quantitatively precise metric that captures trade imbalances between the United States and Japan. In the process, he meets Tori Tahashi, a Canadian-Japanese filmmaker whose cousin Sachi Yoshida was murdered by an unknown party. Sachi had been secretly recording the goings-on at the Bonsai Club, an exclusive members-only redoubt in Tokyo that serves as the headquarters of the shakai, a secret society that’s existed since the 12th century and manipulates much of the Japanese economy. The shakai figure out that Tori is in possession of Sachi’s footage, and they send operatives to break into his home and steal it. Scott and Tori join forces to investigate the shakai, and they fly to Japan after Scott’s contact in the CIA provides Tori with false documentation to conceal his identity. Kingston thrillingly chronicles the shakai’s dogged pursuit of the main characters, revealing the group to be essentially a criminal organization with nationalistic objectives—one that’s fully prepared to murder their enemies, if necessary. The narrative also provides a peek into the group’s inner workings as it follows the rise of Akio Morita, a new initiate, through its ranks. However, the novel is mainly a vehicle for presenting a trade-imbalance theory, which the author articulates with impressive clarity; it holds that Japan sneakily subsidizes its exports, manipulating the market and its own currency and thus destroying any possibility of fair trade with the United States. The theory is compelling enough that readers may wish that Kingston had developed it in greater detail, as the rest of the cloak-and-dagger plot is formulaic and unconvincing. Also, the prose style, especially in dialogue, can be breathlessly melodramatic; for example, the Kani, members of the shakai, often speak like comic-book villains: “You have begun to understand the power of the Kani, the responsibility that transcends the individual. You'll soon learn how to call upon this power, as you may one day be called to fight the enemies of the Empire.”

A compelling economic theory wrapped in a shopworn plot. 

Pub Date: April 2, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-9959542-1-2

Page Count: 278

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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