A wildly entertaining and energetic period thriller.

JAZZED

An affair between coeds culminates in murder in Dearman’s Jazz Age melodrama.

In the early 1920s, Wilhelmina “Will” Reinhardt and Dorothy “Dolly” Raab are freshman roommates at Columbia University’s Barnard College for women, both daughters of wealthy New York Jewish families. They’re temperamental opposites who attract; Will is a bookish misfit who speaks 11 languages and is an expert ornithologist, and Dolly’s a flapper who flirts up a storm. Will, a lesbian, likes traditionally male clothes and is getting over a lifetime of shyness, while Dolly revels in the attentions of either sex and teasingly receives Will’s adoration. Their relationship deepens during giddy outings to Harlem speak-easies and intensifying make-out sessions, but it’s especially stoked by classroom discussions of the Nietzschean superman—or superwoman—whose superiority allows any crime in pursuit of a supposedly higher morality. This creed fires up Dolly’s sociopathic streak, and she ropes Will into a series of thrill-seeking transgressions, starting with arson and burglary. After the two are paired off with different roommates by Barnard officials, Dolly decides that they must defy the ultimate taboo by kidnapping and murdering a child. Dearman’s tale tweaks the real-life story of child-killers Leopold and Loeb into a love story of two women set in a richly atmospheric panorama of New York in the Roaring ’20s, awhirl in high society, hothouse dorms, and uptown gin mills. It’s also a crackerjack procedural, as Dolly and Will plot out a crime that’s almost perfect—except for a few slip-ups that put dogged detectives on their trail. At its center are indelible portraits of the doomed lovers: Will, who’s incurably awkward and ardently besotted, and Dolly, whose glittering, teasing surface belies a hollow core. Dearman perfectly renders the noir mood in evocative, punchy prose: Dolly, reacting to a pregnancy scare, “couldn’t imagine being strapped with a tot. It made her feel dead inside….Daddy had a few prize pistols in his office. She would sneak one out and practice firing it out in the woods, then once she had a feel for it she’d eat the barrel.”

A wildly entertaining and energetic period thriller.

Pub Date: July 5, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-925965-96-4

Page Count: 280

Publisher: Vine Leaves Press

Review Posted Online: April 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

MEANT TO BE

Giffin’s latest charts the course of true love between an American aristocrat and a troubled fashionista.

Almost immediately, readers will guess that Giffin’s protagonist, Joseph S. Kingsley III, a media darling since birth, is a re-creation of John F. Kennedy Jr. In addition to Joe’s darkly handsome good looks, there are many other similarities, such as his double failure of the New York bar exam and his stint as a Manhattan assistant district attorney. But Joe’s late father was an astronaut, not the president, and locations associated with the Kennedys, such as Hyannis Port and Martha’s Vineyard, have been moved to the Hamptons and Annapolis. Instead of a sister, Joe has a protective female best friend, Berry Wainwright. Readers may be so obsessed with teasing out fact from fiction, and wondering if the outcome for Joe is going to be as tragic as JFK Jr.’s fatal 1999 flight, that they may be distracted from the engaging story of Joe’s co-protagonist, Cate Cooper, who is—apart from a superficial resemblance to Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy—largely a fictional creation. When Joe and Cate meet-cute on a Hamptons beach where Cate, a model, is posing, both are immediately smitten. However, the paparazzi are determined to milk every ounce of scandal from the social chasm separating them. On the surface, Cate is the product of a middle-class upbringing in Montclair, New Jersey, but her interrupted education and her forced flight from an abusive home have shamed as well as strengthened her. Like her real-life counterpart, Cate rises in the fashion industry and becomes known for her minimalist style. The couple’s courtship drags a bit on the page despite witty banter and steamy encounters. It is the conflict brewing when their pedigrees clash, and, particularly, Cate’s consciousness of the disparity, that grips us. Whether these knockoffs can avoid the fates of the originals is the main source of suspense here.

An intriguing meditation on the meaning of “meant to be.”

Pub Date: May 31, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-425-28664-7

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2022

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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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