HAVANA BAY

The welcome return of one of the two (along with George Smiley) most memorable characters in modern thrillers. Arkady Renko, the smart, humane, often despairing but idealistic and persistent Moscow detective introduced in Gorky Park (1981) and brought back in Polar Star (1989) and Red Square (1992) is still attempting to nail the bad guys. But in chaotic post—Soviet Russia, a world where the villains seem to be proliferating, his job keeps getting harder. Still reeling from a personal tragedy (likely to unsettle devoted readers of the series), Arkady seizes the opportunity to leave Moscow for a brief trip to Havana. His old acquaintance Pribluda, a KGB bureaucrat, has apparently turned up dead in the harbor. But is it Pribluda? The body is too decayed to allow definite identification. The Cubans, struggling to survive in a world without the Soviet Union, have a barely restrained loathing for Russians and no great interest in investigating the death. Arkady, who’s contemplating suicide and feeling useless and lost, is energized—hours after having entered Cuba—by an attempt on his life. He manages to kill his attacker, thereby becoming a figure of considerable interest to the small Russian diplomatic community and various factions in the Cuban government. With the help of Ofelia Osorio, a bright, competent, maverick policewoman, Arkady begins to sort out the tangled threads of the case. Smith has always demonstrated a genius for detail, and his powers are working at their peak here; his portraits of a threadbare, vibrant Havana, the various classes in Castro’s classless Cuba, and the resilient, sardonic Cuban response to an impoverished existence, are vivid, assured, and convincing. Smith has also always had a genius for complex conspiracies, and the one that Arkady and Ofelia uncover is typically audacious and believable. The climax, as Arkady struggles for his life in the waters of Havana Bay, is masterfully paced. A strong, satisfying addition to one of the most memorable and idiosyncratic series of modern thrillers. (Book-of-the-Month Club main selection; Author tour)

Pub Date: June 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-679-42662-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 1999

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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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