JUDGMENT DAY

Predictable but carefully drawn genre-surfing bio-thriller featuring an affectionate portrait of Minnesota and southwestern scenery—all in a first novel crowded with odd characters and bloody incidents. When top pharmaceutical scientist Alexander Tomlin crashes through his 11th floor office window, only Jon Patchett, a hard- drinking, world-weary lawyer, wonders if Tomlin jumped or was pushed. Tomlin was working on the oddly named Prohiva, an HIV vaccine that is nearing what the drug industry calls judgment day (full approval from the FDA). Because Patchett's firm represents Weber BioTech, the Minneapolis drug company behind Prohiva, Patchett is ordered to conduct discreet inquiries, if only to make sure that nothing happens to affect the drug's approval. Patchett becomes romantically drawn to his coolly competent paralegal assistant Anne Matheson; the two discover a cover-up in Weber's Arizona drug development lab. Meanwhile, a handful of middle and underclass types, such as de rigueur noir prostitute Maggie Washburn, are being hunted down and killed before their nagging coughs develop into virulent cases of AIDS. Add to this a pathetically perverse serial killer named the Barber, who strangles female joggers and then clips their hair. Is it a coincidence that one of the Barber's victims was Tomlin's lover, Rebecca Cartaway? Or has the author tried to pack too many genre conventions into his tale? This first novel becomes Hillermanesque as action shifts to the Arizona desert, where a dreamy Navajo child and a guilt-ridden physician help Patchett and Washburn reveal how a hideously dangerous batch of the drug has escaped laboratory controls. Reinken escapes his burdensome kitchen-sink plot with convincing glimpses of industry insiders and just-plain-folks affected by the reckless pursuit of profits. Overplotted legal/medical/psychokiller/city vs. Navajo desert whodunit, with better-than-average characterization, a more reasoned take on medical research than Robin Cook's, and a reluctant lawyer hero who, thankfully, doesn't sleep with his clients.

Pub Date: July 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-684-80762-9

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1996

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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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