A pleasingly madcap but not quite coherent Caribbean mystery.

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Jack Slater, Pooka Sloan, Planet Earth

An alcoholic, epileptic gunsmith-cum–adventure novelist navigates Key West’s criminal underworld in Rovina’s rollicking debut.

Jack Slater and his stepsister, pediatrician Danielle “Pooka” Sloan, have retreated to South Florida’s Cheeca Lodge for some R & R after the slew of dangerous exploits documented in Slater’s semi-autobiographical novels. As well as fictionalizing family feats, Slater refurbishes guns for Davy Jones’s Locker. He gets a tip about antique ammunition to be salvaged from a 1930s shipwreck and sold to the Sicilian mob. The setup promises a lighthearted gangster romp, but Rovina adds layers of complexity through Slater’s seizures and vivid daydreams, including encounters with alluring sphinxlike alien Lucasia McCall. Slater’s charming first-person narration echoes that of an Ernest Hemingway hero or a hard-boiled Raymond Chandler detective. The salvage plot gets rather lost, though, in a welter of drunken visions, pleasure cruisers, operatic arias, Greek mythological allusions, manga imagery and eccentric minor characters. The reliance on potted superficial descriptions dooms the characters to be similarly shallow (women are especially stereotypical: either 1940s femmes fatales or soft-porn anime heroines). While breathlessly overfull at times, the novel, ironically, takes off slowly. Pages pass with little happening apart from characters lounging waterside, drinking cocktails, enjoying steel-pan music and liaising with criminals. Such languid pacing might suit the breezy, Jimmy Buffett atmosphere, but it does little to hold attention. Readers may also be somewhat alienated by the outmoded technology: The book’s origin in 2000 is reflected in Slater’s devotion to his Cassiopeia PDA (simply replacing it with an iPad could have made this up-to-the-minute). Rovina’s descriptive passages are strong, however, and occasional made-up words (“bumpkinishly,” “sad-sackness”) lend the prose a playful sophistication. With a gangsters-’n’-guns plot, mild raunchiness, preoccupation with technology past and present, and unexplained phenomena, the novel shows traces of nouveau steampunk-lite gems, like Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker (2012), but a silly deus ex machina ending shortchanges the novel.

A pleasingly madcap but not quite coherent Caribbean mystery.

Pub Date: Feb. 16, 2013

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 187

Publisher: Amazon Digital Services

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2013

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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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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