An entertaining, educational mystery that neatly bridges the gap between fact and fiction.

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BENJAMIN FRANKLIN AND THE QUAKER MURDERS

An illustrious Founding Father adds supersleuth to his resume in McElroy’s (America’s Culture: Its Origins & Enemies, 2016, etc.) well-researched historical novel.

Jacob Maul, a Philadelphia Quaker, has been accused of murder after the body of his housekeeper, Lizzy Coons, was found on his property. An additionally damning complication for Maul—his second wife died under mysterious circumstances several years earlier. Unbeknownst to the Quaker, his greatest hope for acquittal lies with 79-year-old Benjamin Franklin. The beloved public figure, “the greatest man in America after General Washington,” believes in Maul’s innocence. Franklin enlists the assistance of family acquaintance and Revolutionary War veteran James Jamison to investigate Lizzy’s death. Despite his initial reluctance, Jamison is swayed by Franklin’s thoughtful arguments and agrees to take the case. McElroy offers an excellent whodunit, carefully crafting a range of suspects and dolling out numerous red herrings. The Holmes and Watson dynamic is apparent as the elder statesman parses out the clues and lectures on the importance of a method of inquiry. Franklin provides the financial backing and deductive reasoning while the more youthful Jamison spends his days tracking down information and suspects. Jamison is an endearing protagonist and a suitably straight-laced foil for the idiosyncratic Franklin, a Renaissance man with wide-ranging talents and intellect. And while Franklin tends to natter on, McElroy incorporates historical facts without lecturing readers. The depth of McElroy’s research and his background as a scholar is apparent throughout, both in his portrayal of 18th-century Philadelphians and Franklin in particular. McElroy subtly references Franklin’s ingenuity while also illuminating his quirky, appealing personality; for example, Jamison is summoned to a meeting with Franklin while the Founding Father soaks in a bathtub wearing a fur hat.

An entertaining, educational mystery that neatly bridges the gap between fact and fiction.

Pub Date: June 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-946409-10-2

Page Count: 299

Publisher: Penmore Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

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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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