Somber but absorbing tale, thanks to a likable protagonist and fully imagined setting.

AVENGING ANGELS

A new social worker worries her colleagues may be murdering child abusers in Wirth’s (Day of the Dead, 2017, etc.) thriller.

Recent college graduate Jennifer Reilly is excited for her first field assignment after three months working at Child Protective Services. She initially works closely with Kelly “K-Bond” Bond, a highly regarded child-abuse investigator. Jennifer soon befriends other colleagues who deal with cases of child abuse, like Detective Diane Gill of the Riverside Police Department. The group meets at a local bar for drinks and discussions about the most appalling cases. Gill suggests calling themselves the Karma Klub after abusive parents—from a case the detective investigated—turn up as victims of torture with injuries similar to their maltreated infant. An apparent avenger is targeting others as well, some just out of prison and many who don’t survive the encounter. Jennifer is content with her new career and her doting boyfriend, Joe Carpenter. But she’s shaken by the discovery of evidence that seemingly implicates someone she works with. And it’s quite possibly more than one colleague because the killer isn’t working alone. Searching for the culprit(s) with Joe’s help, Jennifer may not like what she finds. Wirth handles the story’s grave subject matter respectfully. Characters, for example, are unmistakably affected by their experiences and care about what happens to the kids. There are likewise various forms of abuse, from physical to neglect, and different outcomes for CPS investigations (one leads to a loving, abuse-free household). But while Jennifer eyes quite a number of suspects, most readers, privy to more details than the protagonist, won’t have trouble naming a killer. Still, it’s a delight watching Jennifer investigate; she furtively peruses desks at CPS and even has to duck and crawl away when someone unexpectedly arrives. The prose doesn’t linger on violent imagery, though it’s abundantly clear what’s taken place, whether it involves children or culpable parents.

Somber but absorbing tale, thanks to a likable protagonist and fully imagined setting.

Pub Date: April 16, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-946920-44-7

Page Count: 324

Publisher: TouchPoint Press

Review Posted Online: May 21, 2018

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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