A standard mystery with some delightfully offbeat elements.

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FLABBERGASSED

A MISTER PUSS MYSTERY

An architect tries to solve a murder with the help of a talking cat in this comic mystery novel.

California transplant Brody Norris has made a wonderful life for himself in Dumont, Wisconsin, with his husband and architectural partner, Marson. When Brody is given the opportunity to design the flagship facility for a nascent weight-loss company, he jumps at the chance even if the business itself is somewhat suspect. Dr. Francis Frumpkin’s FlabberGas system is “an overall treatment process that combines diet, exercise, and the administration of oxygen. The program is approved as safe and effective for loss of weight. What does the oxygen do? It contributes a glorious aura of well-being.” Brody is beginning to have second thoughts about his involvement even before a FlabberGas demonstration for investors results in the death of Frumpkin’s son-in-law. The man has been accidentally FlabberGassed to death. Now Brody—a problem-solver by profession—must discover who is behind this deadly bit of sabotage. To aid him in his investigation, he has Sheriff Thomas Simms and one Mister Puss, a rich local widow’s beloved cat, who some believe possesses the power of speech. Craft (Inside Dumont, 2016, etc.) writes in a crisp, lively prose that highlights the quirks of his colorful cast of characters. “A clotheshorse with a taste for custom tailoring,” goes the description of the local rug magnate, “he often donned a tux and served as escort to several of the town’s wealthier widows...but the lifelong bachelor fooled no one.” The idyllic atmosphere of Dumont—where people don’t hold many prejudices even if they can get a bit nosey—is a well-drawn setting, perfect for an exuberant, low-stakes murder mystery. Frequent readers of the genre will have little trouble guessing who the killer is, and the talking cat may strike some as a superfluous (and overly cute) element. But Craft’s talents for characterization and intricate plotting make the novel an entertaining read.

A standard mystery with some delightfully offbeat elements.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 241

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 14, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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