A gonzo adventure novel that shreds the conventional wisdom that pulp can be pigeonholed.

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ESCAPE FROM BAGHDAD!

In the dark days leading up to the Iraq War, two black marketeers blunder into an ancient conspiracy involving a secret sect of Islamic mystics.

Here’s the thing: If you’re going to write pulp fiction, jump in with both feet and let the blood fly. That’s what Bangladesh-based journalist Hossain has done in this kinetic debut novel set in the exploding streets of Baghdad. Our “good guys,” so to speak, are Dagr, a widowed former professor of economics who's turned to crime in the wake of the U.S. invasion, and Kinza, an anarchist berserker who can’t wait for the bad things to come—“When the rage comes, just stay behind him, that’s all,” warns Dagr of Kinza. It wasn't very pretty in the city in those days. “It’s a war,” observes one of Kinza’s corrupt connections. “We kill you, you kill us, who cares? The important thing is to have a sense of humor about it. When we were bombing the Kurds, do you think they were crying like babies?” This bickering duo is trying to get out of the city when they’re hired by a local sheik to track down the shadowy “Lion of Akkad,” a suspected serial killer who turns out to be a centenarian mental patient named Afzal Taha with ties to the Druze, the aforementioned cult. Unfortunately, during a skirmish, Kinza shoots the son of Hassan Salemi, a particularly nasty imam with a thirst for bloodshed. To facilitate their movement through the war-torn city, the two renegades enlist the help of Marine Pvt. Hoffman, a dope-smoking, rule-breaking hooligan who’s supposed to be looking for weapons of mass destruction but really just wants to be in country to “blow shit up.” It’s a marvelous mix of genres, blending the visceral atmosphere of a war movie with the casual nihilism of Catch-22 or the original M.A.S.H. complete with an Indiana Jones–style treasure quest to employ a mystical watch that doesn’t tell time to unleash the ancient power of the Druze before the sect’s ancient Alchemist, the real enemy, catches up with them.

A gonzo adventure novel that shreds the conventional wisdom that pulp can be pigeonholed.

Pub Date: March 17, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-939419-24-8

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Unnamed Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2015

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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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More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

THE RESCUE

High-stakes weepmeister Sparks (A Walk to Remember, 1999, etc.) opts for a happy ending his fourth time out. His writing has improved—though it's still the equivalent of paint-by-numbers—and he makes use this time of at least a vestige of credible psychology.

That vestige involves the deep dark secret—it has something to do with his father's death when son Taylor was nine—that haunts kind, good 36-year-old local contractor Taylor McAden and makes him withdraw from relationships whenever they start getting serious enough to maybe get permanent. He's done this twice before, and now he does it again with pretty and sweet single mother Denise Holton, age 29, who's moved from Atlanta to Taylor's town of Edenton, North Carolina, in order to devote her time more fully to training her four-year-old son Kyle to overcome the peculiar impediment he has that keeps him from achieving normal language acquisition. Okay? When Denise has a car accident in a bad storm, she's rescued by volunteer fireman Taylor—who also rescues little Kyle after he wanders away from his injured mom in the storm. Love blooms in the weeks that follow—until Taylor suddenly begins putting on the brakes. What is it that holds him back, when there just isn't any question but that he loves Denise and vice versa-not to mention that he's "great" with Kyle, just like a father? It will require a couple of near-death experiences (as fireman Taylor bravely risks his life to save others); emotional steadiness from the intelligent, good, true Denise; and the terrible death of a dear and devoted friend before Taylor will come to the point at last of confiding to Denise the terrible memory of how his father died—and the guilt that's been its legacy to Taylor. The psychological dam broken, love will at last be able to flow.

More Hallmarkiana, from a shameless expert in the genre.

Pub Date: Sept. 19, 2000

ISBN: 0-446-52550-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2000

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