A busy but breezy swashbuckling caper awash in intrigue and headlined by two indefatigable heroes.

A FISH OF SOME IMPORTANCE

This third installment of a historical mystery series by a London-based American playwright reunites readers with two clever 19th-century sleuths.

After successfully solving the mystery of missing cheese and investigating a gas leak explosion at a Baltimore museum exhibition, the crime-busters Cassius Lightner and his longtime fiancee, Amanda Crofton, return in fine form to address a seafaring murder in 1817. A flustered Crofton arrives at Lightner’s United States Patent Office to debate Superintendent Dr. William Thornton’s halted testing of her hand-held rocket harpoon invention, initially conceived for the American military. But that subplot is sidelined by the appearance of Denise LaSalle, a teenage paleontologist whose father is a Royal Navy captain. She’s teamed up with Lightner and Crofton to seek government funding to uncover proof that a giant sea monster existed at one time and could still be alive. Returning to assist the sleuths are former American sailor Charlie Dunn, who imparts some political wisdom on the country’s nagging problems with racial inequality, and Lightner’s astute sister, Caroline. When LaSalle turns up dead in the clutches of a beached sea creature’s tentacles, the mystery begins to churn, especially when Lightner and Crofton increasingly suspect foul play. Hidden bureaucracy, besmirched whalers, and a host of plausible suspects emerge from the depths of Giesser’s (A Nude of Some Importance, 2016, etc.) well-written, genteel-voiced whodunit, reliably steeped in American history as usual. The witty novel’s detective spadework plays out nicely against a backdrop of salty dialogue and strings of hit-or-miss jokes as well as narrative perspectives from both Lightner and Crofton. Crofton’s ingenious harpoon invention ends up making her a walking target because the idea “has the potential to revolutionize whaling and upset the current power structure in the industry.” Stirring the pot is Madeleine Serurier, the conniving wife of a former French minister to the United States and ex-friend of Crofton’s, whose greed has caused her to become a nefarious schemer. Fans of the author’s enchanting gumshoes will find them at their most sparkling and outspoken here, though the plot of this particular tale, featuring dark humor and political red tape, lacks momentum in spots. But the finale delivers a rousing courtroom melodrama that should certainly please readers.

A busy but breezy swashbuckling caper awash in intrigue and headlined by two indefatigable heroes.

Pub Date: Dec. 20, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-67844-994-0

Page Count: 219

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Dec. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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...

SUMMER ISLAND

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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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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