Keen comedy redeems an overly congested—albeit, briskly paced—murder plot.

Deadly as Angels

A debut novel offers a hard-boiled detective story, punched up with some witty repartee—and sexual tension—between investigative partners.

Helene Stoner, a young, troubled girl, turns up dead at the Port Authority Terminal in New York City, mysteriously murdered. Her estranged father, Harcourt T. Stoner, an affluent baron of business, recruits two private investigators, Jessica Horowitz and Matt Redman, to find the killer. Autopsy results reveal that Helene gave birth to a child, and Harcourt wants them to track the kid down as well, if he or she remains alive. Meanwhile, Redman, a computer security expert, helps the IRS determine the source of a corrosive virus running rampant through its technology. The pair uncover a connection between Helene and Estella Malkin, a psychologically unhinged contract killer, who unfortunately dies before she can disclose any useful information. But Horowitz and Redman discover that Estella had donated significant sums of money to a charitable organization called Helping Hand Home, which provides assistance to erstwhile prostitutes and wayward girls. This leads them to a cultish organization in New Hampshire run by a charismatic leader, whose mission in life seems to be to prey upon vulnerable young women. The two parallel stories—the murder of Helene and the virus decimating IRS computers—finally converge in an unpredictable twist. It’s remarkable how much is packed into what is essentially a novella, but the price of unpredictability is a plot riddled with convolution and implausibility. The banter between the two protagonists can be genuinely sharp and funny, highlighting the barely suppressed romantic magnetism. They form an unlikely pair—she’s a Jewish ex-cop and he’s a black military veteran—but their chemistry is palpable. The dialogue sometimes reads like a parody of old pulp fiction mysteries, overwritten and excessively cute: “ ‘Freeze,’ Boris snapped. Matt was still trying to look up her tank top. ‘Or do you vant to choin your spirit friend, Zimru?’ Boris’ face did not inspire chumminess. Neither did the gun in his hand. She froze.” The pace is unyielding, and the authors manage to turn grim topics—murder and the systematic exploitation of young women—into fodder for comedy. This is a fun, if uninspired, iteration of a shopworn genre.

Keen comedy redeems an overly congested—albeit, briskly paced—murder plot.

Pub Date: March 8, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 225

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 13, 2016

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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