A sometimes-intriguing but awkwardly executed conspiracy thriller.



Ruff’s (Sh*tty Beijing Bike, 2016) archaeological thriller tells the story of an American writer who gets caught up in an international incident involving China’s famous Mausoleum of the First Qin Emperor.

The story begins at Austin’s South by Southwest festival in an unspecified year when Texas secedes from the United States. There, Arthur Biers meets Wyatt Waller, a rich tech guru who has a plan to disrupt the archaeology world by using drones. Wyatt has just returned from Xi’an, China, where his assistant died under mysterious circumstances, and he’s looking for a replacement. That’s where Arthur, a Mandarin-speaking blogger, comes in; he has an interest in historical mysteries, and the unopened Tomb of the First Emperor in Xi’an—best known for the thousands of terra-cotta warriors who “guard” it—is one of the biggest. “All you really have to do is write about the people, and places you see,” explains Wyatt; he’ll be assisting the popular and controversial author Bruce Philips, who’s dead-set on discovering what’s inside the sealed tomb—and verifying Chinese claims that the tomb has never been opened before. Arthur will later be called a grave robber by Chinese newspapers, detained at the Austin airport, and forced to explain to an ambassador how he came to be inside the tomb. Ruff’s thriller does a fine job of mixing ancient mysteries with contemporary geopolitics, and it’s the latter element that gives this thriller a consistently sinister atmosphere. The author’s overall vision is poorly served by his writing, however, which doles out information in a confusing manner. The pacing is also criminally slow throughout, and even the occasional sharp-sounding lines can feel overwritten: “For his family, the Wallers, making money was a science, making a lot of money was an art, and making more money than you’ll ever know what to do with a civic duty.” In the end, the novel feels more like a slog than a lightweight caper.

A sometimes-intriguing but awkwardly executed conspiracy thriller.

Pub Date: Dec. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-973416-17-3

Page Count: 414

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Feb. 26, 2019

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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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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.


A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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