Only Thomas Harris does it more stylishly.

PSYCHOPATH

Return of heroic alcoholic Frank Clevenger, forensic psychiatrist.

Clevenger was first met in full-blooming Denial (1997), wherein he kept gulping Scotch, bought coke on borrowed money, bought sex at nude dance bars, couldn’t pay his bills, hit up his mother for drug money, gambled, drove drunk, dug S&M. Denial ended with Clevenger still deluded. Compulsion (2002) found him trying to shake his demons while analyzing an infanticide on Nantucket. Ablow, himself a forensic psychologist, now takes a page from Hannibal Lecter: Clevenger this time out faces his mirror image, a demonically brilliant psychiatrist turned serial killer. In the stunning opening scene, Dr. Jonah Wrens drives his BMW along Route 90 outside Rome, New York, playing Mahler’s serene Tenth Symphony, thinking of Scott Fitzgerald’s The Crack-Up, and searching for a highway victim to seduce into soul-warmth before he razors open the victim’s carotids and orgasms while hugging the victim as his or her life ebbs away. Jonah leaves 14 bodies razored across 14 states before the FBI calls in Clevenger for analysis of the killer’s motives and way of working. Jonah is a traveling psychiatrist for kids severely impaired by mental illness and spends about six weeks at each hospital he attends. He’s now at Canaan (Vermont) Memorial’s low-socioeconomic children’s locked psychiatric unit, which has about 25 damaged kids for him to suck dry of their pains, as he does all his highway victims. His fractured mind allows him entry into unthinkable regions and to drug himself with other people’s demons and escape his guilts. Meanwhile, Clevenger has his own problems raising Billy Bishop, his adopted, pot-selling 16-year-old once accused of the Nantucket infanticide. Still, he chooses to flush out the Highway Killer. The New York Times publishes a letter from Jonah asking for Clevenger’s help in a correspondence. While very successful with damaged kids, Jonah via Clevenger strives to free himself from evil. Everyone says it: He’s the nicest guy in the world.

Only Thomas Harris does it more stylishly.

Pub Date: July 22, 2003

ISBN: 0-312-26671-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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