An entertaining procedural that skillfully blends police work and personal relationships.

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TRIPLE CROSS KILLER

From the State Detective Special Forces series , Vol. 1

Detectives in two U.S. states pursue a serial killer who sees himself as a savior of domestically abused children in this thriller.

Detroit resident Rita Rose has good reason to avoid a romantic relationship. Her ex-fiance, Dr. Zeke Fazul, after committing vehicular homicide, tried to frame Rita by putting her unconscious body behind the wheel. Cleared of official charges, she’s now slowly recovering, thanks in part to her best friend, Detective Jacqueline McSween. Jaq helps Rita find a job as a medical examiner’s assistant and encourages her friend to date again. Soon, Rita meets an airline pilot, Nick Archer, and the two hit it off. Unfortunately, readers know the relationship is already doomed as Nick is a murderer. With access to children’s letters to Santa, Nick zeros in on the kids who write about some form of abuse. He targets individuals responsible for tormenting loved ones, and his M.O.—victims left with broken necks and handmade rosaries—quickly alerts Jaq and her partner, David Maxwell, to a serial killer in the area. At the same time, Nick’s flights frequently take him to Sarasota, Florida, where he tracks down other abusers. The investigating Sarasota detectives, Abel Mendoza and Ronald “Rabbit” Randall, likewise spot similarities among the murders. The two detective teams aren’t initially aware of each other. Meanwhile, an exuberant Rita grows closer to Nick. But his unsavory side gradually emerges, as he’s controlling and prone to reciting biblical passages at odd times. With luck, Rita will uncover more about Nick before it’s too late.  Aquilina (Feel No Evil, 2003), a Michigan circuit court judge, aptly establishes her story as a procedural. For example, the detectives’ periodic discussions at crime scenes or the medical examiner’s table ultimately help them form a profile of the killer. The author also uses these procedural elements for consistent character development. Jaq and David, for example, are hiding an intimate relationship that violates department policy while ME Dr. Towers is a mentor and father figure to Rita. Accordingly, Aquilina’s prose is a solid fusion of police/medical jargon and banter among co-workers and friends. But even with meticulous murder investigations, the ongoing cases aren’t always enlightening. Jaq has a running theory that the killer is inspired by the 10 plagues of Egypt (for example, killing a firstborn or putting lice on a victim). But this ultimately provides no further insights, as the premise involves some earlier murders and suggests ritualistic and religious aspects that the handmade rosaries have already implied. Regardless, Nick and Rita prove to be intriguing characters on their own as well as together. Though Nick is offing bad people (whom not all family members are sad to see go), he’s unmistakably disturbed. Knowing he’s a killer makes his scenes with Rita relentlessly tense, especially when his domineering manner crops up. Rita’s decision to stay with Nick, despite her increasing wariness, is believable: her behavior is akin to that of a battered woman. Indeed, Nick’s treatment of her is psychological abuse. Notwithstanding readers’ knowledge of the killer’s identity, there’s an effective twist near the end.

An entertaining procedural that skillfully blends police work and personal relationships.

Pub Date: Feb. 15, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73369-640-1

Page Count: 455

Publisher: Bowker

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

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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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A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

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THE GIVER OF STARS

Women become horseback librarians in 1930s Kentucky and face challenges from the landscape, the weather, and the men around them.

Alice thought marrying attractive American Bennett Van Cleve would be her ticket out of her stifling life in England. But when she and Bennett settle in Baileyville, Kentucky, she realizes that her life consists of nothing more than staying in their giant house all day and getting yelled at by his unpleasant father, who owns a coal mine. She’s just about to resign herself to a life of boredom when an opportunity presents itself in the form of a traveling horseback library—an initiative from Eleanor Roosevelt meant to counteract the devastating effects of the Depression by focusing on literacy and learning. Much to the dismay of her husband and father-in-law, Alice signs up and soon learns the ropes from the library’s leader, Margery. Margery doesn’t care what anyone thinks of her, rejects marriage, and would rather be on horseback than in a kitchen. And even though all this makes Margery a town pariah, Alice quickly grows to like her. Along with several other women (including one black woman, Sophia, whose employment causes controversy in a town that doesn’t believe black and white people should be allowed to use the same library), Margery and Alice supply magazines, Bible stories, and copies of books like Little Women to the largely poor residents who live in remote areas. Alice spends long days in terrible weather on horseback, but she finally feels happy in her new life in Kentucky, even as her marriage to Bennett is failing. But her powerful father-in-law doesn’t care for Alice’s job or Margery’s lifestyle, and he’ll stop at nothing to shut their library down. Basing her novel on the true story of the Pack Horse Library Project established by the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s, Moyes (Still Me, 2018, etc.) brings an often forgotten slice of history to life. She writes about Kentucky with lush descriptions of the landscape and tender respect for the townspeople, most of whom are poor, uneducated, and grateful for the chance to learn. Although Alice and Margery both have their own romances, the true power of the story is in the bonds between the women of the library. They may have different backgrounds, but their commitment to helping the people of Baileyville brings them together.

A love letter to the power of books and friendship.

Pub Date: Oct. 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-56248-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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