Erickson enhances a familiar formula with a keen understanding of his characters and a series of plot turns.

KIDNAPPED

THE DISAPPEARANCE OF CHRISTIAN MCKINLEY

A tense kidnapping thriller that takes a deep dive into the murky waters of criminal psychology.

When Johnny and Craig meet, it’s a match made in hell. They meet as cellmates in prison after lengthy downward spirals into addiction, theft, and other petty crime. Both have histories of abuse, although Johnny has taken on the role of abuser, with Craig as his victim. When they get out of prison, they look for a way to make money and vent their rage, and their plans take a dark turn almost immediately. Concocting a scheme to kidnap Christian McKinley, the adopted grandson of one of Minnesota’s most wealthy citizens, is one thing. But when the two actually snatch Christian from a downtown Minneapolis Hilton and demand a $17 million ransom, the cracks in the ex-cons’ volatile relationship begin to show. And although the two had each pledged to be better fathers than their own were, taking care of an actual young man—one with the power and privilege that they were always denied—brings up more issues than they expected. Their mistrust and anger can only lead to a violent conclusion. Debut author Erickson’s prose is solid, offering several twists and using omniscient third-person narration to its fullest extent to provide insight into the characters—even those who don’t understand themselves. His depictions of the various players are emotionally razor-sharp, and he maintains a consistent narrative voice throughout. That said, his descriptions of psychological stresses can sometimes feel overly clinical, especially toward the beginning of the book: “The psychological damage manifested itself in Craig’s behavior as an adolescent and later as an adult, yet people around him could not read the messages his body was sending. His own messages even confused him and intensified his already fragile self-esteem.” This choice may alienate some readers, but those who like psychological profiling in their crime fiction will enjoy its depth.

Erickson enhances a familiar formula with a keen understanding of his characters and a series of plot turns.

Pub Date: Jan. 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5434-6562-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Xlibris

Review Posted Online: April 24, 2018

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LAST ORDERS

Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 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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