A historic page-turner that promises to bring fans new and old to the table.

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THE DEADLIEST FEVER

A MIRIAM BAT ISAAC MYSTERY IN ANCIENT ALEXANDRIA

Trop (The Deadliest Sport, 2017, etc.) lends depth and familiarity to an ancient world and adds modern thriller sensibilities in this latest historical mystery novel, the fourth in the series.

Miriam bat Isaac, an aspiring alchemist in first-century C.E. Alexandria, has had a complex life. Having dealt with the dangers of alchemical techniques themselves and people competing with or acting against the Jewish alchemists working on such research, she finds herself in the rare position of both being an expert in alchemical science and in unraveling the conspiracies and threats that beset her and those around her. So it’s all the more surprising when she’s faced with her most puzzling challenge yet—an attack on Alexandria’s Great Synagogue that leaves its Torah mantle damaged. That alone would be a mystery worth tackling, but when her alchemist colleague (and the longtime object of her affections) Judah repairs the mantle, he finds that none of the gems embedded in the sacred object were stolen, leaving the culprit’s motives all the more uncertain. When a missive warning of a veiled need for additional guards at the synagogue appears, Miriam’s concerns only deepen. As she investigates, she finds more and more doubt and confusion about this particularly twisted piece of intrigue, and it’s dark and dangerous enough that it could very well be her last. As in previous books, Trop’s prose is strong, with clean, natural dialogue and a particular flair for the kinetic details of action scenes and the dramatics of disguise and investigation. The complex cultural dynamics of Jewish people in this society are well-researched, a welcome facet of the series. What’s more, even new readers will find themselves caught up in the setting via effective description and a liberal application of culture- and setting-specific terms. Fans of the series may be interested to note that, while this book brings with it the tension and quick pacing of previous entries, it does feature fewer scenes of violence and action-fueled drama. Certainly this is unsurprising, because the previous book focused on Miriam’s brother, Binyamin, and his fellow gladiators, but it’s worth noting this installment’s shift to a greater focus on investigation, questions, and uncertainty.

A historic page-turner that promises to bring fans new and old to the table.

Pub Date: April 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-62694-875-4

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Black Opal Books

Review Posted Online: June 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 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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