A spirited Hollywood mystery that has its moments.

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CITY OF ANGELS

An aspiring Hollywood starlet struggles to launch her career while a serial killer stalks young actresses in this novel.

Ariel Ames has just arrived in Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress. At first, things don’t look so great. She has no agent or connections; she’s living with an obnoxious, sex-crazed roommate; and a serial murderer called the Angel Killer is slaughtering young redheads in outlandish, dramatic ways. Ariel, a redhead, signs up for self-defense classes yet also lands a job dancing at a bikini bar under the stage name Scarlet. Her workplace is called Misty’s Menagerie of Misfits, Marvels, and Maladjusts, and is something of a local institution. Soon after she begins, she attracts the attention of a talent agent while a coffee shop encounter lands her a date with an actor named Nate Harris. As the Angel Killer continues to terrorize the city, he broadcasts a message to inform the world that he is murdering people to absolve them of their sins. “What I do, I do out of mercy, not malice. I kill because I care,” he says. Special Agent Marcus August of the FBI investigates the case as the body count keeps rising. But things take a much more sinister turn when Ariel begins receiving notes from the killer. Afraid but not wanting to run and hide, she has to balance her desire to quickly build her career with the haunting menace of the Angel Killer, who seems ready to murder again. Adam’s (American Asshole, 2016, etc.) book is somewhat short. But for a concise novel, he tackles a great deal of weighty issues, no small feat for a writer whose protagonist met her agent at a strip club but refuses to do on-screen nudity. The Hollywood he writes about is full of men harboring motives and agendas, with the ever-present threat of sexual harassment or even rape always looming. In addition, the serial killer’s crimes are a shocking example of misogyny. This work isn’t as in-depth or as humorous as Adam’s wonderful debut, American Asshole, and there isn’t space to develop all of the characters. Even so, lighthearted irony does shine through, and the conclusion delivers an inventive, theatrical climax.

A spirited Hollywood mystery that has its moments.

Pub Date: Oct. 9, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-64606-951-4

Page Count: 222

Publisher: Post-Entropy

Review Posted Online: Nov. 19, 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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