EXCHANGE ALLEY

Densely plotted New York tough-cop procedural that incongruously mixes gruesome walks on the wild side with KGB-CIA intrigue. Beginning initially inside a secret CIA dungeon, this first novel from music journalist Walsh (Andrew Lloyd Webber, not reviewed, etc.) quickly cuts to the discovery of a naked, bullet-ridden, castrated male corpse in the Rockland County woods not far from an abandoned BMW with Danish diplomatic plates registered to a Manhattan address. NYPD Homicide Lieutenant Francis X. Byrne studies the corpse in the gruff and tough style we expect from seen-it-all New York cops until he finds, inside the BMW, a photo of two women, one of whom seems to be Byrne's mother minus 30 or so years. The unsettled Byrne pockets the photo, makes a call on the Danish consulate, and lets Ingrid, who's not afraid to be a sexy Danish clichÇ spy, take him (as a prelude to seduction) through some of Manhattan's more disgusting kinky sex clubs—clubs that were frequented by the murder victim, a Danish consulate employee named Egil Ekdahl, who had his own perverse version of an Oedipus complex. Walsh punctuates numerous in-your-face close-ups of urban debauch with giddy flashbacks that reveal Ekdahl's true identity as a KGB spy who had something to do with a Russian defector who may have been a KGB spy with information about Lee Harvey Oswald and a plot to kill John F. Kennedy. The story falls apart when Byrne's sputtering, mean-spirited brother Tom, an FBI agent, swaggers onto the scene with revelations about Cold War sexual blackmail and the news that nothing is as it seems, including their dear old mom. Byrne is forced to accept the notion that good and evil are relative in more ways the one. Crisply written and thoroughly preposterous mean-streeter. An afterword implies a factual basis to some of the author's fictive imaginings.

Pub Date: July 9, 1997

ISBN: 0-446-52069-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 1997

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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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