Even if the convulsive strands in Walters’s largest web yet never come together with the knotty precision of her earlier...

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ACID ROW

What would happen if the citizens of a big-scale suspense novel were as many-dimensional as the suspects in Walters’s seven striking mysteries—too complex by far to be pigeonholed as heroes and villains? They’d be the denizens of Bassindale Estate, the English housing project that erupts in a violent riot.

Thanks to Fay Baldwin, a spiteful health-care visitor who didn’t retire soon enough to keep herself from spreading the news that police had just relocated a known pedophile to guilelessly named Humbert Road, the street is soon abuzz with rumors about Nicholas Hollis, né Milosz Zelowski. It’s particularly bad timing for Nicholas’s neighbor Laura Biddulph, whose ten-year-old daughter, Amy Rogerson, has just walked out of Laura’s intolerable domestic arrangement—a clear-eyed swap of sex for shelter with middle-aged bus driver Gregory Logan and his two monstrous children—and off the face of the earth. And it’s even worse timing for Nightingale Health Centre physician Sophie Morrison and WPC Wendy Hanson, both of whom are trapped inside Bassindale when outraged neighbors egged on by shiftless teenagers armed with Molotov cocktails constitute themselves a lynch mob. In crossing over from ferociously literate whodunits like The Shape of Snakes (2001), Walters handles the teeming cast and the buildup of danger and suspense authoritatively, from the opening whispers to the inevitable fatalities. Her real achievement here, however, is in the oddly sympathetic pedophile, the angry heroine, her ex-con rescuer, the pitifully unformed teenage provocateurs, Amy’s willfully irresponsible mother and smoothly complicit father, and an underage victim who turns out to be just as exploitative, though a lot less powerful, than the plausible scoundrel who preys on her.

Even if the convulsive strands in Walters’s largest web yet never come together with the knotty precision of her earlier plots, they all show the damning effects of helplessly raging long-term victims thrashing out in turn to hurt anyone in reach.

Pub Date: July 1, 2002

ISBN: 0-399-14862-0

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2002

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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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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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