The Sense of Death

In Dalrymple’s debut thriller, a woman capable of sensing spirits might be unknowingly putting herself in danger when she gets close to exposing a murderer.
Ann Kinnear can’t converse with ghosts, but her ability to sense a lingering spirit, or “essence,” is enough for her to work as a consultant for police in a missing person case. But it’s a job for client Mavis Van Dyke that catches a killer’s attention. Mavis, who wants to live in a haunted house, hires Ann to walk through prospective homes. Ann is so disturbed by an angry spirit at a Philadelphia house that she won’t even go inside. When Detective Joe Booth hears of this, he asks Ann to return to the residence, hoping to validate his belief that the seller, Biden Firth, murdered his wife, Elizabeth. Biden learns about Ann, too, and he starts obsessively keeping an eye on her and her brother/business partner, Mike, to ensure that Ann doesn’t help the detective solve his case. Dalrymple’s novel features a protagonist who’s amiably reclusive—she’s none too happy that a History Channel special gets her recognized in public—but also relatable, especially considering her endearing relationship with Mike, who, even as a child, fully believed in her spirit sensing. Ann’s special talent is distinctive and remarkable; though people usually call her a psychic, she can’t directly communicate with spirits (a fact that is repeated a few too many times) and instead senses them via glowing lights, sounds or smells, e.g., the scent of a dead man’s pipe tobacco. Though Ann sees herself as a “freak,” she isn’t portrayed as such. The story touches on her affinity for Garrick, who relates to Ann by sharing a similar ability. While Mike and Ann’s separation from the ongoing murder case helps build suspense (Biden has the advantage since they don’t know what he looks like), the investigation gets a dramatic punch from Joe’s visits with Elizabeth’s grieving mother, Amelia, as well as updates on Biden’s daughter, 2-year-old Sophia, whom the father often neglects. The book closes with adequate resolution and is bolstered by an intense scene with at least one life in peril.
A frighteningly meticulous villain and a formidable protagonist will have readers breezing through the pages.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2013

ISBN: 978-0615919775

Page Count: 324

Publisher: William Kingsfield Publishers

Review Posted Online: July 16, 2014

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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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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.


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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