A solid, twisty debut.

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THE PATRIOT CIPHER

In McCutchen’s debut novel, a socially awkward genius works around the clock to stop a terrorist who hides his plans for mayhem in coded messages.

Benjamin William Asher, one of the FBI’s most talented analysts, has a unique talent for quickly “spotting patterns and breaking down intel.” His nickname, “Basher,” refers to the name on his badge, which reads “B. Asher,” and to his takedown of a perp during his first day in the field working for the FBI’s Dallas office. Someone has sent a threat with a cryptogram to multiple major newspapers, which captures Basher’s attention. The note, signed by “The Patriot,” is addressed “To the Citizens of the United States of America,” and gives a 24-hour deadline to solve a puzzle, in order to stop an unspecified event from occurring. Basher cracks the code, and the revealed message suggests that the sender is targeting railroad bridges in Chicago; however, the authorities there don’t see the threat as credible. Not long after explosions destroy the bridges, the Patriot sends a second cipher, which Basher shows to be a threat to Atlanta. The analyst and his team rush to identify and stop the perpetrator. McCutchen ably builds tension throughout the narrative, and his characters’ frustration and determination feel real. The author skillfully develops the diverse group working to thwart the Patriot, which includes the intelligent, intuitive, and driven Special Agent Abigail Gains; a tactical expert; a techie with “the skin tone of someone who saw more dark hours than light”; and a psychoanalyst who tries to understand the terrorist’s motives. He also supplies realistic dialogue, as when a team member tells Basher, “Just remember, we are in this together, and when this is all over, when we hopefully understand what it has all been for…you’re buying the first round.” The ciphers add an intriguing element to the book, and puzzle fans may well try to solve them before Basher does.

A solid, twisty debut.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-977953-46-9

Page Count: 373

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Feb. 23, 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 strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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