Although its suspense level could be higher, this novel satisfies with its wonderfully complex and vivid setting.



An American graduate student in India teams up with an intelligence agent and others to prevent a crisis that could spark bloody chaos.

When Jill Rothchild, an American student of ethnography, arrives in India, her biggest problem is finding subjects to interview for her thesis on the Narikuravas, an ethnic group similar to the Roma, or Gypsies. Her father’s friend professor N.V. Venkataraman Rao, or Venkie for short, helps her get started and provides a place to stay. They’ve barely begun when their house is bombed, and Venkie reveals the truth: He’s a retired secret agent for the Research and Analysis Wing, India’s equivalent to the CIA. His old friend and rival in Pakistan—called “Kebab” for his sharp ways—has turned terrorist. Kebab has summoned Venkie out of retirement, taunting him to complete one last mission, to prevent Kebab from unleashing a high-tech attack that could destabilize multiple governments. Jill, Venkie and two Narikuravas (a folk medicine man and his niece) have 40 days and nights to zigzag across India and Pakistan, dodging paid thugs and other dangers, to reach Kebab’s hideaway in time. Jackson (Diving for Carlos, 2011, etc.) has previously written several books about South Indian culture and vividly evokes the beautiful, varied confusion that is India. The characters’ long and meandering journey covers a lot of ground, from teeming cities to quiet villages, and involves encounters with colorful characters, including a Bandit Queen, a Bollywood star and a famous guru. Jill’s narrative voice is lively, engaging and thoughtful, and the novel includes many well-observed details, such as the tea-stall keepers during monsoon season who “fashion little boats from bottle caps, with oil and a lit wick, launching the little glowing crafts to go exploring currents down the street, just for the sweet and simple fun of watching the miniature boats float out of sight.” However, one plot device, that keeps giving away the group’s presence to Kebab’s thugs, is immediately obvious to readers but not to the protagonists; their failure to connect the dots may cause some readers to doubt their intelligence.

Although its suspense level could be higher, this novel satisfies with its wonderfully complex and vivid setting.

Pub Date: April 30, 2012

ISBN: 978-8129119445

Page Count: 324

Publisher: Rupa & Co.

Review Posted Online: Jan. 11, 2013

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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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