An intelligently fashioned moral study, realistic and unflinching.

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MENA

An attorney becomes pulled into the investigation of a murder that may be connected to a dark governmental conspiracy in this novel. 

Rainy Morrow’s death marks the eighth unsolved homicide in nine months, a statistically alarming trend in a town as small as Mena, Arkansas, with a population of 5,000, a grim predicament chillingly described by Reynolds (Sanctify, 2011, etc.). Dolby Richards, a local defense lawyer who had a romantic relationship with Rainy, is tipped off by a friend, Dennis, the district attorney, that the police will soon make an arrest. He encourages Dolby to interview and represent the suspect, Paul Bighton. Bighton was found completely unconscious lying next to Rainy’s corpse, and in the absence of other suspects, seems like a credible candidate for her murderer. But when Dolby interviews him, he seems manically incoherent, a “tortured soul,” more discombobulated than violent. Bighton claims—within barely intelligible rants—that Rainy was likely killed because she knew too much about a drug-smuggling operation that involved the participation of military pilots and massive shipments of cocaine by C-130 aircrafts. Bighton dies while in custody—it’s ruled a suicide but Dolby suspects he was murdered, too—and the lawyer dives headlong into his own investigation, obtaining video evidence of the drug deliveries. Once he shoots and kills a man furtively tailing him—according to the victim’s identification, he’s a Marine—Dolby crosses the threshold beyond which there is no retreat. Reynolds convincingly ties the drug-smuggling operation and killings into a broader story about the Iran-Contra scandal, making this a delightfully unconventional combination of murder mystery and historical fiction. The author diligently develops Dolby’s character: A former hippie now disillusioned and divorced, he still maintains a vestige of idealism and is reluctant to acknowledge that the “force of pure evil” exists. But his scrutiny of Mena’s homicides challenges those moral attachments, compelling him to accept the possibility that he lives in an incorrigibly fallen world, a transformation ably chronicled by Reynolds. The author’s prose is self-assured and precise, if stylistically unspectacular.

An intelligently fashioned moral study, realistic and unflinching.

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4575-5722-4

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Dog Ear Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 10, 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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THE VANISHING HALF

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.

THE RESCUE

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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