NIGHT RITUALS

Right on the heels of his first adult novel (Murphy's Herd, a 1989 western, not reviewed) comes this skilled but derivative cops-vs.-serial-killer story from Paulsen, a prolific and two-time Newbery-winning children's author. Paulsen trumpets his new-found adult subject matter with a vengeance: page one finds the unnamed serial killer, as a child, graphically molested by his mom; a few pages and decades later, a janitor at Denver's Stapleton Airport finds a woman's severed breast in a discarded bag. Into this swamp wades Denver homicide cop Ed "Push" Tincker, strong but sensitive—the kind of cop who gets drunk and obsessively drives by his ex-wife's house—and not beyond stepping outside the law to see justice done. "Please don't let this be a cutter," Push hopes, but of course it is, a maniac who—as it's gradually revealed—is not only reenacting Aztec blood rituals, but is an airplane pilot. Could he be the shadowy pilot-husband of the woman with whom Push is having a torrid affair? Sometime after the killer outwits a police ambush and snuffs Push's partner, Push starts to think so, and so do we; but author Paulsen's not that blatant, and the killer turns out to be another pilot altogether. Determined not to let this madman off ("If he arrested Harvitt and proceeded through normal channels the son of a bitch would skate. . .Harvitt had to die"), Push buys a first-class seat and flies Harvitt's next flight to Seattle—a set-up for the exciting return flight and novel's finale, when a crazed Harvitt aims his plane like a javelin for Salt Lake City's Mormon Temple as Push muscles up for some do-or-die heroics. A mess of clich‚s (for a more original Aztec-ritual serial-killer scenario, see William Heffernan's Ritual, p. 74)—but all handled with expert care and rotated at such a rapid pace that the final result is satisfyingly gripping, if familiar, entertainment.

Pub Date: July 28, 1989

ISBN: 0553288172

Page Count: -

Publisher: Donald Fine

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1989

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THE COLDEST WINTER EVER

Debut novel by hip-hop rap artist Sister Souljah, whose No Disrespect (1994), which mixes sexual history with political diatribe, is popular in schools country-wide. In its way, this is a tour de force of black English and underworld slang, as finely tuned to its heroine’s voice as Alice Walker’s The Color Purple. The subject matter, though, has a certain flashiness, like a black Godfather family saga, and the heroine’s eventual fall develops only glancingly from her character. Born to a 14-year-old mother during one of New York’s worst snowstorms, Winter Santiaga is the teenaged daughter of Ricky Santiaga, Brooklyn’s top drug dealer, who lives like an Arab prince and treats his wife and four daughters like a queen and her princesses. Winter lost her virginity at 12 and now focuses unwaveringly on varieties of adolescent self-indulgence: sex and sugar-daddies, clothes, and getting her own way. She uses school only as a stepping-stone for getting out of the house—after all, nobody’s paying her to go there. But if there’s no money in it, why go? Meanwhile, Daddy decides it’s time to move out of Brooklyn to truly fancy digs on Long Island, though this places him in the discomfiting position of not being absolutely hands-on with his dealers; and sure enough the rise of some young Turks leads to his arrest. Then he does something really stupid: he murders his wife’s two weak brothers in jail with him on Riker’s Island and gets two consecutive life sentences. Winter’s then on her own, especially with Bullet, who may have replaced her dad as top hood, though when she selfishly fails to help her pregnant buddy Simone, there’s worse—much worse—to come. Thinness aside: riveting stuff, with language so frank it curls your hair. (Author tour)

Pub Date: April 1, 1999

ISBN: 0-671-02578-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Pocket

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 1999

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Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the...

FLY AWAY

Hannah’s sequel to Firefly Lane (2008) demonstrates that those who ignore family history are often condemned to repeat it.

When we last left Kate and Tully, the best friends portrayed in Firefly Lane, the friendship was on rocky ground. Now Kate has died of cancer, and Tully, whose once-stellar TV talk show career is in free fall, is wracked with guilt over her failure to be there for Kate until her very last days. Kate’s death has cemented the distrust between her husband, Johnny, and daughter Marah, who expresses her grief by cutting herself and dropping out of college to hang out with goth poet Paxton. Told mostly in flashbacks by Tully, Johnny, Marah and Tully’s long-estranged mother, Dorothy, aka Cloud, the story piles up disasters like the derailment of a high-speed train. Increasingly addicted to prescription sedatives and alcohol, Tully crashes her car and now hovers near death, attended by Kate’s spirit, as the other characters gather to see what their shortsightedness has wrought. We learn that Tully had tried to parent Marah after her father no longer could. Her hard-drinking decline was triggered by Johnny’s anger at her for keeping Marah and Paxton’s liaison secret. Johnny realizes that he only exacerbated Marah’s depression by uprooting the family from their Seattle home. Unexpectedly, Cloud, who rebuffed Tully’s every attempt to reconcile, also appears at her daughter’s bedside. Sixty-nine years old and finally sober, Cloud details for the first time the abusive childhood, complete with commitments to mental hospitals and electroshock treatments, that led to her life as a junkie lowlife and punching bag for trailer-trash men. Although powerful, Cloud’s largely peripheral story deflects focus away from the main conflict, as if Hannah was loath to tackle the intractable thicket in which she mired her main characters.

Unrelenting gloom relieved only occasionally by wrenching trauma; somehow, though, Hannah’s storytelling chops keep the pages turning even as readers begin to resent being drawn into this masochistic morass.

Pub Date: April 23, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-312-57721-6

Page Count: 416

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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