Let’s hope Rowling’s next book is sharper and shorter.

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LETHAL WHITE

J.K. Rowling returns with her fourth pseudonymous mystery, putting Cormoran Strike and his now–partner in detecting, Robin Ellacott, in the middle of a scheme involving blackmail, murder, and the House of Commons.

Fans have had to wait three years for the latest Galbraith (Career of Evil, 2015, etc.) novel, but the book picks up exactly where the last installment left off, with Strike arriving late to Robin’s wedding, just after she says “I do” to her odious fiance, Matthew. Strike had recently fired Robin from her job at his private detective agency, worried about her safety after a serial killer tried to make her his next victim, and Robin is more concerned with whether he’s going to hire her back than about making sure the wedding guests are enjoying themselves. Not-really-spoiler-alert: He is. Flash-forward a year, and the agency is prospering when a mentally ill man named Billy shows up with a half-coherent story about having witnessed something terrible when he was a child: “I seen a kid killed…strangled.” Soon after, Jasper Chiswell (pronounced “Chizzle,” in the obscure way of the English upper class), the Minister for Culture, hires Strike to find dirt on two people he says are blackmailing him: Geraint Winn, whose wife is another government minister, and Jimmy Knight, who, not coincidentally, is the brother of Billy, whose story Strike had been looking into. Robin goes undercover in Chiswell’s office, where we meet a variety of the minister’s colleagues, friends, and family members. Rowling keeps many balls up in the air—perhaps too many considering the dead body that gets the book off the ground doesn’t show up until Page 281. There are still another 366 pages to go, and much of that length is a slog. Robin, who can be a great character, spends way too much time wondering what to do about her personal life—for the fourth book in a row. The mystery itself is complex, which is good, verging on convoluted, which is not. There are pleasures to be had, as in Rowling’s jokes on her uber-posh characters: “ ‘Steady on, old chap,’ said [Chiswell’s son-in-law], something that Robin had never thought to hear outside a book.” But there’s way too much filler in between.

Let’s hope Rowling’s next book is sharper and shorter.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-42273-4

Page Count: 650

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

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DEACON KING KONG

The versatile and accomplished McBride (Five Carat Soul, 2017, etc.) returns with a dark urban farce crowded with misjudged signals, crippling sorrows, and unexpected epiphanies.

It's September 1969, just after Apollo 11 and Woodstock. In a season of such events, it’s just as improbable that in front of 16 witnesses occupying the crowded plaza of a Brooklyn housing project one afternoon, a hobbling, dyspeptic, and boozy old church deacon named Cuffy Jasper "Sportcoat" Lambkin should pull out a .45-caliber Luger pistol and shoot off an ear belonging to the neighborhood’s most dangerous drug dealer. The 19-year-old victim’s name is Deems Clemens, and Sportcoat had coached him to be “the best baseball player the projects had ever seen” before he became “a poison-selling murderous meathead.” Everybody in the project presumes that Sportcoat is now destined to violently join his late wife, Hettie, in the great beyond. But all kinds of seemingly disconnected people keep getting in destiny's way, whether it’s Sportcoat’s friend Pork Sausage or Potts, a world-weary but scrupulous white policeman who’s hoping to find Sportcoat fast enough to protect him from not only Deems’ vengeance, but the malevolent designs of neighborhood kingpin Butch Moon. All their destines are somehow intertwined with those of Thomas “The Elephant” Elefante, a powerful but lonely Mafia don who’s got one eye trained on the chaos set off by the shooting and another on a mysterious quest set in motion by a stranger from his crime-boss father’s past. There are also an assortment of salsa musicians, a gentle Nation of Islam convert named Soup, and even a tribe of voracious red ants that somehow immigrated to the neighborhood from Colombia and hung around for generations, all of which seems like too much stuff for any one book to handle. But as he's already shown in The Good Lord Bird (2013), McBride has a flair for fashioning comedy whose buoyant outrageousness barely conceals both a steely command of big and small narrative elements and a river-deep supply of humane intelligence.

An exuberant comic opera set to the music of life.

Pub Date: March 3, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1672-3

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: Dec. 9, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2020

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