A sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements.

KISS THE DEVIL GOOD NIGHT

In Woods’ (Phone Call From Hell And Other Tales of the Damned, 2014, etc.) noirish tale, a just-paroled convict goes after two women whose double cross led to his imprisonment.

When the recession forces Atlanta-based war veteran Bill Derringer into a 14-week furlough from his job as a waste-management truck driver, he and his wife, Edie, find themselves short on both cash and entertainment. She suggests a trip to Orlando, Florida, to see a murder trial, so they pack up their clothes and their two kids and head south. They crash at Edie’s cousin Ida’s place, but it isn’t long before the unemployed “Aunt Ida,” as she’s called, proposes robbing a local guns-and-ammo show. Derringer is surprised to learn that Edie and Aunt Ida have been lovers since high school, and after the robbery, he finds out that Aunt Ida’s plan to escape to Mexico City with the loot doesn’t include him. He winds up in prison for the heist, while the two women vanish. Five-and-a-half years later, he reports to a Miami halfway house, initially invested in finding his estranged children. But he soon makes tracks for Mexico City. Along the way, he becomes a courier for a mysterious suitcase that once belonged to Beat Generation writer William S. Burroughs, and even agrees to infiltrate a drug cartel for an unspecified U.S. agency—but his true goal is revenge. Woods’ story has several pulp-fiction trademarks, including a slew of seedy characters and plenty of sex and violence. But the book isn’t as hard-boiled as readers may anticipate. For every brazen simile (“The afternoon sun beat down like a dominatrix in a sweat”), narrator Derringer drops a line that’s endearing or sentimental, as when he recalls when he and Edie “smooched and groped each other like movie matinee lovers.” Although the perpetually gruff protagonist is a hard man to like, he enjoyably teams up with fellow halfway house resident Jane Ryder, who’s equally cynical but also whip-smart and reliable. A gleefully convoluted final act includes Nazis, unexpected deaths, and an over-the-top villainous plot.

A sharp, contemporary crime novel with classic genre elements.

Pub Date: Nov. 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-8-28-355028-3

Page Count: -

Publisher: 280 Steps

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2017

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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