A dark and impressive murder tale.

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4TH PERSON NO MORE

This thriller places a newspaper reporter in the thick of a small town’s grisliest crime.

The residents don’t lock their doors in the Austin County town of Failey. On the night before Halloween, Lotty Nusbaumer babysits Emily Russell, 11; her brother, Kyle, 9; and Timothy Crawford, 10. Aunt Lotty, as generations of neighbors have come to know her, has the kids making Halloween decorations in her double-wide trailer. Then someone enters. That someone shoots Lotty and the children, leaving them to bleed out. Deputy Amos “Moze” T. Beard is eating breakfast at Hack’s diner with Mirror-Press reporter Ambrose Clay when he’s called to the crime scene. Clay joins him at the scene, the initial sight of which causes 21-year-old Moze to toss his breakfast. Against police protocol, Clay enters the trailer, noting details such as a .22 rifle jammed and bent into the toilet. As cops and bystanders arrive, the reporter follows a wooded ridge to the police-taped property of Orlo Ratliff. The elderly man’s home is where Lotty, the only survivor of the shooting, stumbled for help. Days after the crime, Clay is unable to locate Lotty for an interview. Instead he must contend with Naomi Crawford, Timothy’s spotlight-hungry mother; Potter Crandall, a no-nonsense prosecutor who warns Clay against compromising the investigation; and Janelle S. Wheeler, a younger reporter from the Chronicle, a larger paper. And as if Clay needed a meatier case to gnaw on, he receives a chilly call from an individual who’s “very disappointed” to learn that Aunt Lotty lives. In this pugnacious Midwestern thriller, Gastineau (The Judge’s Brief, 2017) takes readers to 1994, the middle of a decade filled with vicious headline-makers like Theodore “the Unabomber” Kaczynski and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. Clay, an overweight, recovering alcoholic, muses about the crime: He had “entertained some previously unrealized hope of leaving this kind of thing behind in Chicago,” where he learned reporting. The author’s characters spar verbally at every turn, and his dialogue should be delicious to those readers who savor carefully portioned details. Orlo says that he and Lotty are lovers, but “I ain’t s’posed to show up” at her trailer “till it’s good and goddamned dark.” The novel’s title refers to the notion that, as reporters, “if you must have an opinion about the facts...use the fourth person: find a source and make them say it.” Clay’s dealings with interviewees are quite slippery, and his constant jousting against law enforcement regarding what information can be released is so entertaining that the criminal trial portion of the narrative feels like a bonus. Events move organically, and Gastineau’s work feels akin to classics like Helter Skelter and In Cold Blood. An aura of moral rot is captured by a witness on the stand: “Throughout her direct testimony, her expression was dreamy....She was a Jonestown girl; she’d drink the Kool-Aid and ask for more.” While the case drifts slightly here and there, readers should eagerly follow Clay’s heavy step.

A dark and impressive murder tale.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 455

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 21, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 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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