A delightful, well-designed ride for readers who enjoy a long journey down a road filled with intriguing detours.



A debut mystery novel delivers an opulent historical setting: Monaco in March 1914.

It is the height of “the season” in Monte Carlo, and the quarter practically overflows with Americans, Brits, Russians, and Germans. Among the wealthy and royal revelers are Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Murphy from San Francisco. As the book opens, Murphy has been found dead in his bed in Monte Carlo’s prestigious Hôtel de Paris, a bullet hole in his back. Mrs. Murphy’s heirloom diamond and emerald necklace is retrieved from Joe’s pocket. But wait! The necklace is “paste,” a cheap duplicate. The original is missing. A German dictionary is found by the body; a mysterious pair of train tickets to Ireland is uncovered. When the coroner later discovers that Murphy died from an allergic reaction to a bee sting, Chief Inspector Gautier wants to drop the case even though poisoned whiskey was also found on the night table—shooting a dead person is not a crime. Mrs. Murphy and her detestable cousin, Ted Wycliffe, want answers, and her American secretary, 21-year-old Lily Turner, the female lead of this drama, wants to recover the stolen necklace to secure the reward money. It turns out that Lily has taken the secretarial position to help fund the budding detective agency she and her friend Fran Jameson have recently established. The primary male protagonist, 40-something Paul Newcastle, a surveillance director of the Monte Carlo Casino, is partnered with Lily to protect the hotel’s reputation. The cast of characters grows; murder suspects multiply, as do the killings; and everybody has a secret back story that is revealed only gradually as the complex novel progresses. Monte Carlo is filled with spies (the lead-up to World War I forms a silent backdrop), not to mention a major arms dealer. Readers will have to stay on their toes to keep track of all the subplots and interconnections. Renfro’s prose is stylized and meticulous despite the occasional missing or misplaced word that should have been caught in editing (for example, “Was it was the one you identified”). The author deftly duplicates the flourishes of early 20th-century language and provides her narrator with a pleasant hint of sarcasm. Here is Lily sizing up Paul, whose top-drawer presentation is many layers removed from his guttersnipe heritage in Liverpool: “This time, Lily focused on the posh accent. Possibly pure gold. Possibly pinchbeck. She was incapable of detecting the slips in diphthongs or variations in vocabulary that betrayed the metal’s baseness.” Paul is the most complicated character, a skillful con man planning his next big score yet haunted by a past tragedy and a betrayal by his nephew. Lily is a formidable heroine—smart, pretty, determined to make her own way in the world. Enhanced with historical tidbits and vivid descriptions of Monaco and its habitués, the narrative is engaging and fun. This is an old-fashioned mystery that is chock full of twists, humor, and sophisticated writing.

A delightful, well-designed ride for readers who enjoy a long journey down a road filled with intriguing detours.

Pub Date: Dec. 23, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5201-1393-7

Page Count: 440

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2017

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


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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