An entertaining and compulsively readable thriller—on the beach or anywhere.



From the Pepper Ryan series , Vol. 1

In this debut novel, a Cape Cod cop’s homecoming takes a deadly turn when a Secret Service agent ends up murdered and an assassination plot is discovered before the U.S. president’s vacation visit.

Who says you can’t go home again? Pepper Ryan was the former “wonderboy” of the New Albion Police Department. But three years ago, a disastrous bust gone awry compelled him to quit the force, grab his guitar, and head for Austin, Los Angeles, and Nashville. No sooner does he return home and rejoin the department than a dead Secret Service agent is found on the beach in a clambake pit with a red starfish on his chest. “Back in uniform two days and the kooky shit’s already started,” a veteran officer greets Pepper. And it shows no signs of letting up as the president plans to come to New Albion to hit up a dying but disenchanted billionaire backer for continued financial support. The unpopular president’s imminent arrival brings out the cranks and protesters and one very credible assassination threat. Pepper, who knows the area and the locals, is assigned to collaborate with the Secret Service. He works in the shadows of his retired father, the former chief of police, and his brother, “the finest young homicide detective in Boston in the last twenty years” until he is gunned down trying to foil a robbery. As for Pepper, his fellow officers have started a pool to bet how long his current tenure with the force will last. There’s nothing like a good redemption story to launch a series of procedural thrillers. But while Pepper is looking for a chance to prove himself, he doesn’t quite fit the pulp profile; he’s young, he’s handsome, and he’s not divorced, an alcoholic, or in thrall to any vices. Except for the previous flameout, he seems to be a good cop. Fagan doesn’t push a hard-boiled tone. He has a good ear for dialogue and a vivid sense of place, which he has populated with memorable and credible characters, including Pepper’s high school flame—a jet-setter whose father is the ailing benefactor hosting the president—and the two hit men who are adding to the area body count as well as old friends and new enemies who have the hero in their sights.

An entertaining and compulsively readable thriller—on the beach or anywhere.

Pub Date: June 28, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-73245-960-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Fireclay Books

Review Posted Online: Aug. 31, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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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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