A remarkable whodunit that’s as sharp as it is concise.

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TIED TO DECEIT

In Brar’s debut mystery, a detective uncovers secrets surrounding a murder in 1970s India.

Gayatri Bhardwaj had suspected her doctor husband, Rajinder, of infidelity even before she received an anonymous letter about an upcoming adulterous encounter. She walks in on him and his lover, Devika Singh, who works at Lifeline Hospital with Rajinder, and Devika only exacerbates the situation by claiming that she’s pregnant with Rajinder’s child. Devika later turns up dead from strangulation, and Superintendent of Police Vishwanath Sharma’s investigation quickly leads him to the Bhardwajs. But the murder case is far from that simple. Others on the hospital staff had blamed Devika for a patient’s recent death—she’d contacted police regarding the girl’s attempted suicide, which delayed her treatment. Sharma soon learns that Devika had other enemies with motives to kill her. As he delves further into Devika’s life, it only deepens the mystery and reveals additional suspects, including her estranged spouse, Virat Singh Chaudhry. Sharma rightly surmises that quite a few interviewees are hiding something, and he receives a note that seems to point him toward a killer—or possibly a scapegoat. Brar enhances her taut murder mystery with an engaging setting that effectively incorporates the local culture, as when someone uses a respectful honorific, “Sahib,” for a character they may not respect at all. The narrative is flavored throughout with occasional Hindi, with plenty of context for readers who are unfamiliar with the language. The author reveals her characters to be delightfully complex; for instance, Devika is described as “good, but not always, and certainly not to everyone.” The mystery, too, is involving; interrogations make up the bulk of the story, and although readers know a bit more than Sharma does, they’ll still find identifying the culprit to be a challenge. The smart, believable denouement will have readers looking forward to Brar’s next endeavor.

A remarkable whodunit that’s as sharp as it is concise.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-77515-803-5

Page Count: 328

Publisher: Penguide Books

Review Posted Online: May 4, 2018

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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