A somewhat muddled homicide investigation, but bold characters and an exemplary coda make the story worthwhile.

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A Moving Screen

A homicide detective, believing he’s spotted a serial killer’s M.O., teams up with a private eye pal to put a stop to the murders in this thriller.

The latest case for Lt. Dennis Cane of Georgia’s Peach Grove Police Department is a homicide—or an attempted one. The Jane Doe survives someone setting her on fire, and lies in critical care at a hospital’s burn unit. Dennis isn’t surprised by the assault. He’s been following a torch killer’s pattern: two slayings a year (June 16 and 24), starting with a murder three years ago in 2005. The deaths were in different jurisdictions, so Dennis can’t work an official investigation, despite tying some murders together with black threads and DNA at the scenes. He does find help, however: high school chum and private investigator Merlot Candy, specializing in tracking down missing people, manages to identify the Jane Doe. Hired by her family to find her assailant, Merlot collaborates with Dennis. The two friends uncover evidence further linking a few of the murders, while FBI profiler Sterling Templeton may have a way to locate the anonymous caller who found the burn victim. They have mere days before the presumed next homicide on the 24th—unless the killer decides to change the discernible method. The novel is an unhurried but engrossing mystery. Dennis and Merlot, for example, don’t really start investigating until well past the halfway point, but a multitude of characters, including burn unit staff (the killer may try to finish the attempted murder), give the story depth. Allis (A False Start, 2014) likewise adds historical details for the 2008 setting, from presidential candidate Barack Obama to the upcoming Celtics/Lakers NBA championship battle. Case specifics are sometimes contradictory; Templeton notes the killer has no “particular type of woman,” despite all the victims being young blond females who, according to Merlot’s assistant Glenn Bausch, share “a slight resemblance.” The author’s no-frills writing style gives the plot momentum but occasionally calls unnecessary attention to metaphors—with more than one reference to black-threads evidence and a case “hanging by threads.” The ending, however, is remarkable, offering resolution and a bona fide shock or two.

A somewhat muddled homicide investigation, but bold characters and an exemplary coda make the story worthwhile.

Pub Date: April 27, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 239

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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