The crime story here, as Gruesser’s scholarly introduction acknowledges, is at once cluttered, transparent, and incomplete....

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THE BLACK SLEUTH

A fragment of historical importance, serialized in 1907–09 and now published for the first time in book form, pits a gifted young African detective against a covey of veteran jewel thieves.

Before he can join the ranks of the International Detective Agency, Sadipe Okukenu, a highly educated Yoruban, must first leave Nigeria for America in the company of a kindly but condescending sea captain who places him at his sister’s school in Maine. Winning a scholarship to a one-horse southern college satirically modeled on the Tuskegee Institute, Sadipe swiftly finds, as his friend General R.M. De Mortie tells him, that “the South is a veritable hell for a man of your culture and taste.” So Sadipe withdraws from the college and the region one step ahead of a lynch mob after he’s integrated a public conveyance half a century ahead of Rosa Parks and challenged a white missionary’s benighted view of the Dark Continent. In the considerably less interesting sequel, Sadipe, observant, ingratiating, and formidably articulate, rises on the general’s recommendation to a trusted position in the agency, and it’s no surprise—though it’s quite a coincidence—when he instantly divines that Col. Ewart George Evelyn Bradshawe and his plausible accomplices have their eye on a fabulous diamond Captain George De Forrest bought several years ago from Sadipe’s own brother. Showing skills for inference, guesswork, and especially disguise, Sadipe is hot on the trail of the conspirators when the story breaks off with Captain De Forrest’s diamond still unstolen.

The crime story here, as Gruesser’s scholarly introduction acknowledges, is at once cluttered, transparent, and incomplete. In his forerunner to Chester Himes’s ribald comedy and Walter Mosley’s somber odysseys of oppression, though, ex-slave Bruce (1856–1924) shows that although subtlety in representing heroes of color would come later, racial pride and eloquence were ready and waiting long ago.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 1-55553-511-9

Page Count: 160

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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