In this engrossing and atmospheric tale, a racially charged killing reveals the fissures of an intricately drawn St. Louis...

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RACE MUSIC

A police officer investigates the murder of a singer amid racial and ethnic tensions in the mid-20th-century Midwest.

In this historical novel, Herder (Krazee Mouse Blues, 2015, etc.) introduces a variety of memorable characters who populate the St. Louis suburb of Marecage in 1963. Home to prostitutes, drug dealers, mobsters, and cops who subscribe to a wide range of moralities, Marecage is a low-rent district along the Mississippi River (“Several square blocks of rickety-brick nightclubs, taverns, flop joints, whorehouses, and warehouses, all squeezed along a crumbling cobblestone levee as if the city had swept all its filth into a pile and left it on the banks of the Mississippi for the next big flood to wash it away”). When crooner Eddie Devine is found dead in a Marecage motel room shortly after performing to an adoring, mixed-race crowd, Tony Waluska is among the police officers assigned to investigate. As the initial bungling of the crime scene unravels, Tony’s pursuit of the truth—during his breaks from “the worlds of smack and Jack”)—puts him at odds with the city’s power brokers and the people who have an interest in sweeping Devine’s death under the rug. Tony leaves town, returning in 1981 and renewing his interest in the cold case just as the city’s first African-American mayoral candidate would prefer to see it forgotten. Herder has a talent for developing his characters’ voices, not only in dialogue, but also in their frequent internal monologues (“Tony Waluska, well, he floats between the lines, hugging and kissing everyone, knowing everyone, a cop with a smile as big as his hands”). But the frequent use of racial slurs, while appropriate to the characters, grows grating. The sprawling cast of secondary players contains striking and fully developed figures, from ex-stripper Gloria Hallelujah to well-intentioned priest Father Piechowski. Although readers will likely lose the main thread of the plot among the occasionally wandering backstory, Herder ultimately provides an engaging mystery with a satisfying resolution.

In this engrossing and atmospheric tale, a racially charged killing reveals the fissures of an intricately drawn St. Louis community.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5229-8223-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Bison Blues Press

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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