Surprisingly reflective tough guys elevate an overloaded thriller.


The Deadly Tropic Snow

In this military adventure, a tight-knit team goes on a mission to find who’s responsible for poisoning drug users.

In Unnecessary Evils (2010), Ramsey introduced an elite, covert special operations unit tasked with infiltrating global hot spots. Led by U.S. Army Maj. Tom Curran, the team consists of Curran’s best friend, Chief Warrant Officer Constantine “Connie” Caraballo, staff sergeants Alex Fillippi and Oscar Perez, and Chief Warrant Officer Calvin King. In this installment, set some two years after the first, the team’s equilibrium is shaken; Connie is still pulling himself together after his wife was killed in an accident, and now his cousin Sal Sontoro has died. Worse yet, the team fears their recent covert operation—to implant tracking devices in illegal drug supplies—is related to the poisoning of Sal and other drug users. As the team vows to find out the truth behind the deaths, Curran gets encouragement from a strange but oddly familiar man, who tells him, “The mission you’re on now can tip the balance of good and evil.” A series of exciting, dangerous, and often violent escapades take the men through Panama, Mexico, Florida, and Haiti, from a cruise ship to a border town to a gated jungle lair. As the team handles unexpected twists, they find themselves confronting a conspiracy at the highest levels. Ramsey’s attention to character lifts this novel above standard guys-and-guns stories. These men have emotional as well as violent work to do, and their camaraderie is touching. Some readers may disagree with aspects of the book’s ideology, particularly regarding drugs, but the characters do discuss such issues thoughtfully. Ramsey also has a good ear for snappy dialogue and seems to know his military stuff. Unlike the lean, muscular protagonists, though, the book is overweight and slow, as it’s larded with inessential logistical details, editorializing, and information dumps (“[Belize’s] largest city, Belize City, is a peninsula only 3 ½ miles wide and 2 ½ miles high. The city is home to a third of the country’s population, about 300,000 people”). Its punctuation could also have used a cleanup.

Surprisingly reflective tough guys elevate an overloaded thriller.

Pub Date: Nov. 29, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4575-1436-4

Page Count: 300

Publisher: Dog Ear

Review Posted Online: Sept. 9, 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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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.


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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