A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.


Dee offers a playful dystopian novel about the adventures of an unusual hairstylist.

The city of Lionfish is home to a samurai who cuts hair. This samurai, whose name is later revealed to be Dakota, does his haircutting with a katana, and he’ll do it for free for the poor. As a result, he’s never made much of a living with his skill set until one day when he gets the opportunity to “cast” his work, giving him a large audience of smartphone users. Not all is well for the samurai barber, however. On a train ride, he meets an unusual ninja who’s also skilled at cutting people’s locks by nontraditional means—and he’ll do so even if the person doesn’t ask for a haircut. After the ninja manages to slice off a miniscule bit of Dakota’s hair, the samurai retaliates by killing him. Dakota feels bad about this act, though, and is soon brought to justice—not for taking the ninja’s life but, oddly enough, for murdering the train on which the event took place. It’s no surprise that justice in Lionfish is so strange, as a lot of things about the town seem a bit weird. It’s a place where cellphones literally eat batteries and homes can be grown from seeds. However, it also has a less quirky, darker side; greedy nurses attempt to upsell patients, and the difference between rich and poor is truly vast. The samurai barber is fined and whipped for his crime, but Dakota is left with questions afterward: Who trained this audacious ninja? And why would someone go around cutting the hair of those who don’t want it? Dakota’s quest takes him deeper into what makes Lionfish tick. Can society, as one character professes, be changed “one haircut at a time”?

To many readers, this novel’s premise may initially seem rather silly, but the story ventures to many serious places. Blood flows freely and violence runs rampant, but the average citizen of Lionfish is too busy looking at casts to care much about any of it. All the injustice draws many people to anarchy, but is that the answer to their problems? The contrast between the novel’s lightheartedness and its earnest critique of modern living is refreshing. Likewise, the free-wheeling style keeps the narrative in constant motion. Many scenes are sparsely embellished, and characters are only provided backstories when necessary—no matter how out of the ordinary they may be. Some things, however, get lost in the shuffle. At one point, for instance, the samurai has a nightmare, and although it’s full of vivid imagery, it pales in comparison to the more concrete events, as when a character loses his job, his savings, and even his family to a scam. The town of Lionfish proves to be both tough and bizarre but never entirely unrelatable, and the story’s end, when it comes, is just as off-kilter as its beginning.

A novel premise that comes out of left field but launches an oddly poignant adventure.

Pub Date: Nov. 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-80046-049-2

Page Count: 202

Publisher: Troubador Publishing Ltd

Review Posted Online: Dec. 20, 2020

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A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

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A police chief who never grew up and a girl who never had a childhood try to solve the murder of someone they love.

A tiny, picturesque town on the California coast is an emotional prison for the characters of this impressive, often lyrical thriller. Its two main characters are a cop with an improbable naïveté and a child too old for her years. Walk (short for Walker, his last name) is chief of the two-person police department in Cape Haven and a native son. He’s kind and conscientious and haunted by a crime that occurred when he was a teenager, the death of a girl named Sissy Radley, whose body Walk discovered. Duchess Radley is that child’s niece, the daughter of Star Radley, the town’s doomed beauty. Most men lust after Star, including several of her neighbors and perhaps a sinister real estate developer named Dickie Darke. But Star is a substance abuser in a downward spiral, and her fatherless kids, Duchess and her younger brother, Robin, get, at best, Star’s benign neglect. Walk, who’s known Star since they were kids, is the family’s protector. As the book begins, all of them are coming to terms with the return to town of Vincent King. He’s Walk’s former best friend, Star’s former boyfriend, and he’s served a 30-year prison term for the death of Sissy (and that of a man he killed in prison). Someone will end up dead, and the murder mystery structures the book. But its core is Duchess, a rage-filled girl who is her brother’s tender, devoted caretaker, a beauty like her mother, and a fist-swinging fighter who introduces herself as “the outlaw Duchess Day Radley.” Whitaker crafts an absorbing plot around crimes in the present and secrets long buried, springing surprises to the very end.

A fierce 13-year-old girl propels this dark, moving thriller.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-75966-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Henry Holt

Review Posted Online: Dec. 25, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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A pleasure for Grisham fans and an undemanding addition to the beach bag.


A tempest is bearing down, and murder most foul is afoot in Grisham’s latest whodunit.

Call it a metamystery: Grisham, prolific producer of courtroom thrillers, moves the action to a Florida resort island populated by mystery writers. In the wake of a ravaging hurricane, one of them turns up dead—a nice, affable fellow named Nelson Kerr, a former trial lawyer who “ratted out a client, a defense contractor who was illegally selling high-tech military stuff to the Iranians and North Koreans.” It’s not hard to understand that the client might want Kerr dead. But then, so would others whom Kerr has written about, including money launderers and—well, let’s just say other entrepreneurs who wouldn’t like their activities to be described in any detail. Enter bookstore owner Bruce Cable, friend, drinking buddy, and sometime editor and adviser of Kerr and other members of Camino Island’s literary crowd, including “an ex-con who’d served time in a federal pen for sins that were still vague.” Cable is perhaps Grisham’s least sympathetic hero; he drinks night and day, sleeps around, and has few apparent scruples. At least he’s not a lawyer. Neither is he a cop, though he’s quicker on the scene than the island’s homicide investigator—“I didn’t know we had a homicide guy,” Bruce allows, since murder is rare in these parts. That leaves it to him, an intern, a girlfriend, and assorted other players to piece together what happened to the unfortunate Mr. Kerr, who, it must be said, is dispatched in a way nicely in keeping with Floridian lifestyles. Grisham’s tale unfolds at a leisurely pace, never breaking into a sweat, and if the bad guys seem a touch too familiar, the rest of the cast make a varied and believable lot, and some might even be fun to ride out a storm with, at least if they're unarmed.

A pleasure for Grisham fans and an undemanding addition to the beach bag.

Pub Date: April 28, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54593-8

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2020

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