An exciting, if excessively labyrinthine, tale of white-collar theft and historical tyranny.

Four Equations

A financial thriller that details a fraud that connects back to the Nazis’ persecution of Jews.

During the global financial crisis, a bank in the Cayman Islands goes belly up and looks for a bankruptcy liquidator to help craft favorable terms for its dissolution. U.S. Treasury Secretary George Brennan volunteers his nephew Jack, hoping that he’ll pass along information about the bank’s ties to Chicago organized crime and Colombian drug cartels. Jack begrudgingly accepts the assignment but becomes more reluctant when he learns of the country’s ironclad secrecy laws. Then he visits his grandmother’s old friend in Hungary, Dr. Hans Arbenz, a brilliant Nobel Prize–winning chemist. Arbenz tells him a story about his own friend, Dr. Peter Gombos, a Nobel-laureate physicist, who died in an accidental explosion during Hungary’s Nazi occupation. Gombos’ wife, Svetlana, painted a portrait of her husband in 1943, and Jack later stumbles upon the painting while attending an art auction. He buys it and shows it to Arbenz, who observes four equations on a blackboard in the picture’s background; the chemist deduces that the equations are codes that conceal three bank-account numbers. Jack suspects that the bank he’s helping steward into bankruptcy holds those accounts and that it intends to enrich itself at Gombos’ heirs’ expense. Jack must decipher the formulas and locate Gombos’ descendants—both daunting tasks. Meanwhile, he strikes up a partnership and torrid romance with Elize Haemmerle, an auditor from a Swiss foundation. Landori (Mayhem on the Danube, 2012, etc.) does a marvelous job of weaving an intricately detailed and suspenseful mystery. He’s at his best when evoking the horrors of Nazi aggression against Jews, and the themes of remembrance and moral responsibility recur vividly. At one point, for example, Gombos’ former student, now an old man, pithily explains why he tells stories of Nazi persecution at every opportunity: “To bear witness. To make sure these things don’t happen again.” The plot can be maddeningly complex at times, bordering on convoluted, and its plausibility is sometimes undermined by coincidences. However, it still unfurls briskly and intelligently, with an astute sense of historical awareness.

An exciting, if excessively labyrinthine, tale of white-collar theft and historical tyranny.

Pub Date: March 15, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-4602-6625-0

Page Count: 342

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Sept. 17, 2016

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The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with...

SUMMER ISLAND

Talk-show queen takes tumble as millions jeer.

Nora Bridges is a wildly popular radio spokesperson for family-first virtues, but her loyal listeners don't know that she walked out on her husband and teenaged daughters years ago and didn't look back. Now that a former lover has sold racy pix of naked Nora and horny himself to a national tabloid, her estranged daughter Ruby, an unsuccessful stand-up comic in Los Angeles, has been approached to pen a tell-all. Greedy for the fat fee she's been promised, Ruby agrees and heads for the San Juan Islands, eager to get reacquainted with the mom she plans to betray. Once in the family homestead, nasty Ruby alternately sulks and glares at her mother, who is temporarily wheelchair-bound as a result of a post-scandal car crash. Uncaring, Ruby begins writing her side of the story when she's not strolling on the beach with former sweetheart Dean Sloan, the son of wealthy socialites who basically ignored him and his gay brother Eric. Eric, now dying of cancer and also in a wheelchair, has returned to the island. This dismal threesome catch up on old times, recalling their childhood idylls on the island. After Ruby's perfect big sister Caroline shows up, there's another round of heartfelt talk. Nora gradually reveals the truth about her unloving husband and her late father's alcoholism, which led her to seek the approval of others at the cost of her own peace of mind. And so on. Ruby is aghast to discover that she doesn't know everything after all, but Dean offers her subdued comfort. Happy endings await almost everyone—except for readers of this nobly preachy snifflefest.

The best-selling author of tearjerkers like Angel Falls (2000) serves up yet another mountain of mush, topped off with syrupy platitudes about life and love.

Pub Date: March 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-609-60737-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2001

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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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