Louis L’Amour looks down with envy.

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PORT HAZARD

Having shut down the whiskey, music, and fast cars of his superb industrial Detroit quintet with 1999’s Thunder City, stylist Estleman returns with a historical western in mirror-smooth mahogany prose.

This seventh deputy US marshal Page Murdock installment picks up where 2000’s White Desert left off. With a more densely ambitious style and dialogue that rings tones from the overblown bittersweet rhetoric of the day, it opens in Montana, then sinks into the opium-beclouded, bullet-zinging sinfest of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast with pages indebted to Herbert Asbury’s 1933 classic, The Barbary Coast. This federal lawman, working out of Helena, is seen by many as a killer hired by Washington to shrink the ranks of desperadoes. It’s now 20 years since the Civil War, but legions following the Sons of the Confederacy (led perhaps by the Honorable D.W. Wheelock, city alderman and captain in the San Francisco fire brigade) still plan on secession for the 13 Confederate states. Bound for Frisco on a train also bearing General US Grant, Murdock hires Edward Anderson Beecher—a railroad porter and ex-black cavalryman—as deputy to guard his back. When two assassins, each bearing a 20-dollar gold double eagle, attempt to kill Murdock, Beecher saves him. Here, the amusing dialogue turns dizzy with thieves’ jargon in Port Hazard (San Francisco), talk that demands subtitles. But it’s with the descent into Chinatown that unthinking evil turns thick as liquid opium, with blood geysering from beheaded bad guys. As for Bella Union’s melodeon section: “Cabbage roses exploded on burgundy runners in the aisles. Laurels of gold leaf encircled a coffered ceiling with a Greek Bacchanal enshrined in stained glass in the center, lighted from above so that the chubby nymphs’ nipples and the blubbery lips of the bloated male gods and demigods glittered like rubies.”

Louis L’Amour looks down with envy.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 2004

ISBN: 0-765-30190-3

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Forge

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2003

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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