An engaging portrait of an artist swaddled in overused cloth.

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ZOIA’S GOLD

Sington, who’s written six thrillers under the name Patrick Lynch (Figure of Eight, 2000, etc.), explores the shadowy life of a Russian painter for this (slightly) more literary excursion.

The story of Zoia Korvin-Krukovsky—aka Madame Zoia—provides tremendous fodder for a novel: Born in Russia in 1903 to an aristocratic family, she was imprisoned by the Bolsheviks during the revolution, later became an artist who studied under the likes of Vassily Kandinsky, and hung out with the Left Bank crowd in Paris. She married twice, broke hearts often and eventually settled in Sweden, where she specialized in painting on gold leaf; she hewed to that technique until she died in 1999, creating images that are both seductive and, as Sington would have it, springboards for international intrigue. Using Madame Zoia’s correspondence as a narrative skeleton, the author builds his story around Marcus Elliott, a disgraced art dealer who gets a second chance in the trade, thanks to an offer to write a study of Zoia’s work for the program of an upcoming auction. Imagining Zoia’s life in flashbacks, Sington sympathetically evokes the turning points in her life, especially her years in Paris and North Africa in the late ’20s, when she balanced her artistic ambitions, an increasingly disapproving husband and an affair with a young fellow artist. Zoia emerges as a vibrant yet emotionally burdened soul, but the other characters lack such layers; a subplot involving Elliott’s wife and child exists mainly to ratchet up the tension of the plot, which involves a false will, manipulation of facts and general dastardliness on the part of the greater art world. An intrepid, young, attractive female reporter who’s privy to the truth about Madame Zoia arrives on the scene, and soon enough, the artful finery vaporizes, leaving behind a smart, fast-paced, but ultimately clichéd tale whose familiarity weakens its climactic revelations.

An engaging portrait of an artist swaddled in overused cloth.

Pub Date: Nov. 21, 2006

ISBN: 0-7432-9110-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2006

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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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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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