A humorous take on genre conventions in which the farce overtakes the mystery.

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A TALE OF MYSTERIOUS MURRR-DERRR AND A GIRL

An Oklahoma reporter and a fairly novice shamus work a case involving presumed adultery and a strong possibility of murder in Plaster’s (Boobs, 2015, etc.) sendup of traditional whodunits.

Henrietta Hebert, employed at a weekly newspaper in Henryetta, Oklahoma, is sure to be late for her first online course examining classic love tales. She’s waiting on her mom, Wynona Sue, who has exciting news: she’s met the love of her life, professor Alexander Lehough. Two days later, though, Wynona Sue is devastated, certain that Alex is having an affair. She bases this on the fact that Alex said the name “Zander” in his sleep, but she’s unaware that it’s Alex’s name for his own alter ego, with whom he has regular, internal conversations. It also turns out that Alex hasn’t quite divorced his estranged wife, Charlene; meanwhile, she and her lover, Virgil Carter, are in hiding after narrowly escaping a political assassin. Charlene’s attempts to get her hands on Alex’s alleged Nobel Prize winnings lead her to private eye Max Morgan. Alex’s divorce attorney had hired Max, a die-hard fan of TV and film detectives, to track down Charlene. However, Max may have a juicier case involving an anonymous note implying that someone’s been killed. Henrietta, too, investigates—especially after Max accuses her mother of murder. This amusing murder-mystery lampoon largely hits the mark. It’s not really a true mystery to readers, who quickly find out the note’s origin, but they’ll still find it a treat to watch the characters scramble for answers they doubtlessly won’t find; at one point, for instance, Max toys with the idea that the nonexistent Zander is a murder victim. There are some satirical bits, with the best involving Henrietta’s classmates, who use lectures on classic love stories to launch independent stances on sexism and discrimination. Nevertheless, Max is the standout here; he’s so lost in his world of noir that he even mixes up a cop’s name with that of a character in Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer series. The author might have used a little restraint, though, as Max’s tough-guy drawl (“For you, Honey, no charrrge”) is relentless; some cultural references can also be excessive, such as an ample recap of the plot of the 2015 sci-fi movie Ex Machina.

A humorous take on genre conventions in which the farce overtakes the mystery.

Pub Date: Aug. 27, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9914480-6-7

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Mossik Press

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2016

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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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