A kitschy murder-mystery thriller with a retro feel.

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CLAW HAMMER

From the The Instruments of Death Series series , Vol. 1

Anderson (The Devil Made Me Do It Again and Again, 2016, etc.) tells the story of a vicious series of murders in a small Illinois town in this thriller.

Seventeen-year-old Joyce Roberts underwent an unbelievable trauma when she was 6—her father killed her older sister, and the event left both her mind and body scarred. Now an orphan living with her grandparents, she tries to acclimate to life as a normal teenager. She excitedly agrees to attend the senior prom with Tony Virusso, the most popular boy in school. Things go well, and Tony takes Joyce to the cool kids’ after-party. But after the two go off to an empty room with the intention of sleeping together, the night goes off the rails: Tony’s jealous ex-girlfriend bursts into the room, revealing Joyce’s hideous scars to the school’s social elite and causing her to flee into the night. Things get even worse, however, when someone murders the other partygoers, including Tony. The victims are all struck in the head, and the faces of the men bashed in. Det. Sgt. Carl Erickson and Dr. Marsha Wade, the police team assigned to investigate the murders, guess that the assailant is most likely a woman, and the identity of the killer may have something to do with Joyce’s troubled past. Anderson originally published this novel in 1989, but this edition has been revised and updated with more contemporary references; one character, for example, is described as a “Britney Spears lookalike.” Still, the book has the feel of a vintage 1980s pulp novel, which may help distract readers from the plot’s more predictable elements. Overall, it traffics in mostly enjoyable camp, featuring scenes of gore (“Pools of blood ruined the carpet and flecks of blood and brains stained the wallpaper”), sex (“his hands slid up her thighs to probe again at her liquid center”), and dated teen dialogue (“Is she Gary’s steady?”). That said, its tendency to dwell on the size of female characters’ breasts is somewhat off-putting.

A kitschy murder-mystery thriller with a retro feel.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5190-5831-7

Page Count: 212

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 16, 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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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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