An idiosyncratic but enjoyably atmospheric murder mystery.



Some Oregon techies must deal with a possible serial killer in their ranks in this satirical mystery novel.

Portland, Oregon, 2013. Kipling Rehain, a failed “alternative energy” entrepreneur, aging pothead, and secret Luddite (he only recently learned what IT stands for), attends a programmers’ meet and greet at the Mission Theater. There, he meets Cynthia “GG” Oglethorpe, a tech wunderkind with a revolutionary idea for a social media app that will bring people together rather than fragmenting them into partisan tribes: “I want to architect it right so it actually means something. Not endless pictures of cute pets and birthday greetings….I want to do something that matches people based on their ‘anti-interests.’ Suppose everyone had friends who were the opposite of themselves?” With this meeting, SwiftPad is born, and it promises to make boatloads of cash for them and their backers. Meanwhile, a skeleton belonging to a woman who disappeared 16 years ago is discovered buried in one of the city’s utility vaults. It’s the same day that Kip’s old friend Jim Hunt starts working for the utility company. As a set of old cold cases reopens, SwiftPad’s future—and those of its founders—becomes inextricably tied to Portland’s past. Barckmann’s (Farewell the Dragon, 2017, etc.) prose is stylish and funny, particularly when he describes the changing face of the Rose City: “There seemed to be a disdain in Portland for things he thought were important: style, cars, fragrance, and the statement you made when you stood up and took off your sunglasses. And they had a thing about body odor, or rather didn’t. It was especially evident on the MAX train.” While his characters don’t always make realistic decisions—it’s unclear why GG would be attracted or even intrigued by Kip, but she sleeps with him mere hours after meeting him for the first time—the milieu is compelling enough to keep readers captivated. The book reads like a looser version of a Jonathan Lethem novel, riffing on gentrification and the tech industry while exhibiting a genuine love for detective tales and the Portland of old.

An idiosyncratic but enjoyably atmospheric murder mystery.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-62901-271-1

Page Count: 318

Publisher: Inkwater Press

Review Posted Online: Dec. 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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


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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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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