A mostly impressive tale about criminals that will hold readers hostage.


A literary novel tells the story of a reporter’s investigation into a mysterious commune on a California mountain.

Carol, a freelance magazine journalist, comes to San Tomas looking for the missing Donna Fairchild: “Glamor girl attorney, runs with the Panthers, gets wrapped up in a murder, then vanishes for the past three years. Just because she’s not on the cover of TIME anymore, don’t believe for a moment she’s yesterday’s news.” She suspects that Donna has fallen in with Josh Clements, a controversial prison reformer who runs Moetown, a nearby mountain campground populated with ex-convicts. Josh also happens to be the cops’ first stop in every local rape case and is known to disappear every six months. Carol suspects that Josh also has something to do with the unsolved murder of a Chicano political agitator. Josh refuses to speak with her, and while his close-knit community of friends and associates—including a disabled bartender, a disgraced professor, a charming liar, and a silent murderer—answers some of her questions, who knows if she can trust what this group has to say. Carol finally manages to track down Donna and wear Josh down, but when the reformer’s brother, Paul, appears—and as the rapes continue—the story proves more complex than the journalist ever expected. Hogan’s (The Ultimate Start-Up Guide, 2017) prose is gritty and observant, particularly his descriptions of the various outlaws who populate his pages: “He’s smooth,” one character says of another. “Not slick-smooth, just smooth. Trouble is, everyone up here is pretty rough.” The novel has a bit of a shaggy-dog quality—old mysteries are answered and new ones emerge—but the diverse players are intriguing enough to pull readers through the digressions and MacGuffins. A bit of trimming would have improved the pacing, and the ending feels a bit manufactured. But its backwoods 1970s setting—Carol jokes in the first sentence that “it’s like I’m sitting with the cast of Deliverance”—and its exploration of misdeeds, trauma, and rehabilitation make for a reading experience that feels both heightened and familiar.

A mostly impressive tale about criminals that will hold readers hostage.

Pub Date: Jan. 31, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4808-7024-6

Page Count: 358

Publisher: Archway Publishing

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

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Britisher Swift's sixth novel (Ever After, 1992 etc.) and fourth to appear here is a slow-to-start but then captivating tale of English working-class families in the four decades following WW II. When Jack Dodds dies suddenly of cancer after years of running a butcher shop in London, he leaves a strange request—namely, that his ashes be scattered off Margate pier into the sea. And who could better be suited to fulfill this wish than his three oldest drinking buddies—insurance man Ray, vegetable seller Lenny, and undertaker Vic, all of whom, like Jack himself, fought also as soldiers or sailors in the long-ago world war. Swift's narrative start, with its potential for the melodramatic, is developed instead with an economy, heart, and eye that release (through the characters' own voices, one after another) the story's humanity and depth instead of its schmaltz. The jokes may be weak and self- conscious when the three old friends meet at their local pub in the company of the urn holding Jack's ashes; but once the group gets on the road, in an expensive car driven by Jack's adoptive son, Vince, the story starts gradually to move forward, cohere, and deepen. The reader learns in time why it is that no wife comes along, why three marriages out of three broke apart, and why Vince always hated his stepfather Jack and still does—or so he thinks. There will be stories of innocent youth, suffering wives, early loves, lost daughters, secret affairs, and old antagonisms—including a fistfight over the dead on an English hilltop, and a strewing of Jack's ashes into roiling seawaves that will draw up feelings perhaps unexpectedly strong. Without affectation, Swift listens closely to the lives that are his subject and creates a songbook of voices part lyric, part epic, part working-class social realism—with, in all, the ring to it of the honest, human, and true.

Pub Date: April 5, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-41224-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1996

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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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