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

HMMM?

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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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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