Solid characters and Lance’s alluringly grim dreams help distinguish this murder mystery.

Flight of the Tarantula Hawk

A LANCE UNDERPHAL MYSTERY

Psychic crime-scene photographer Lance Underphal is back. In Scott’s (Dark Side of Sunset Pointe, 2013) latest thriller, this tortured character tries to use his visions to help police find a murderer who’s injecting victims with Botox.

When Lance is called to photograph the scene of a murder, a real estate agent killed by Botox shot into her neck, he realizes he’s already seen this in a vision—a wasp stinging a tarantula with a paralytic venom. Doing what he can to help his cop pal Detective Frank Salmon, Lance combs through his dreams, vague though they might be—the symbolic wasp and tarantula; a potential victim whom Lance can’t see clearly; a killer appearing as a child. Meanwhile, Lance, a tormented psychic plagued with insomnia and migraines, finds solace in hearing and conversing with the voice of his dead wife, Sonja. PI Jake Jacobs, a former SEAL who served with Frank, enters the investigation when he’s hired by Jenny, whose husband, Paul, disappears and is later found dead, also from Botox. Jake eventually locks on to a suspect, the senior vice president of a bank’s HR department, while the police have their eyes on someone else. Lance, meanwhile, provides details as they come to him, but he’s absolutely sure of one thing: The murderer is female. He just has to convince the cops he’s right. Alluding to his previous novel with mentions of “the Rodriguez case” but avoiding unnecessary elaboration, Scott can churn out visually rich passages with ease, particularly later in the story when the visions gradually reveal the killer and become increasingly disturbing. In particular, manifestations of the little girl eventually merge with the wasp and tarantula in a stunning, cringe-worthy scene. Lance is an intriguing protagonist, suffering from his psychic abilities with visions of a killer inside his head but also tortured by the simple fact that he still misses Sonja. Jake, however, ends up with the sauciest morsels: Already in a sexual relationship with Jenny’s mother, he picks up his female suspect at a bar on ladies’ night and later has to convince Jenny that he’s not holding out on her in the search for Paul’s killer. He has the best scene, too, when he tracks still-missing Paul’s phone to a foreclosed home and slowly approaches the door while on the phone with Jenny. However, the killer’s identity may not be a shock—readers will likely spot the link between the first two victims and wonder why the cops didn’t see it sooner.

Solid characters and Lance’s alluringly grim dreams help distinguish this murder mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 13, 2014

ISBN: 978-1940745015

Page Count: 350

Publisher: Telemachus Press

Review Posted Online: April 17, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2014

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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