Family tragedies propel two new mysteries from David Bell and Hilary Davidson – Sun Sentinel
“Kill All Your Darlings” by David Bell. Berkley, 416 pages, $17
The title of David Bell’s 11th standalone novel refers to advice well known to all writers. Sometimes the seemingly perfect word or phrase just won’t work and needs to be sacrificed for the greater good. “Kill All Your Darlings” offers the near-perfect metaphor for this energetic story that delves into plagiarism, writing life, and heartbreak in a tidy, suspenseful plot.
Bell explores all the tenets of academic mystery – the pressure to publish or perish for a job, thinly veiled jealousy over a colleague’s success, backbiting and gossip as bargaining chips.
Connor Nye, an English professor at Commonwealth University in Kentucky, never got over the death of his wife and 15-year-old son in a freak accident five years earlier. He’s chronically late to class, unprepared to teach, drinks too much, and couldn’t work on this novel. Despite being truly moribund with grief, Connor seems like he’s always taken the easy way out – not so much lazy as suffering from inertia.
That is, until an opportunity arises when his award-winning student, Madeline O’Brien, turns in a beautiful manuscript for a novel that, because her computer broke down, was handwritten. . Two days later, Madeline disappeared, presumed dead.
Connor typed the manuscript, made changes along the way, and, to his surprise, eventually landed a publishing deal. What could go wrong? How about Madeline showing up at Connor’s on the night of her first book signing, demanding to be paid for what is really her novel. Then the police show up, wondering why the details of Connor’s crime thriller are so similar to the murder of a local woman several years ago.
Bell delivers a gripping and intelligent story that seamlessly pulls together several plot tendrils, from Madeline’s initial disappearance and why she’s so scared to investigations into an old murder and a more recent one.
“Kill All Your Darlings” shows how Connor goes from someone who never finished anything, “almost swallowed up” by his “dark days”, to a decisive man who can have a future, if he can overcome this small fight with plagiarism.
Bell gets high marks with “Kill All Your Darlings.”
“Her Last Breath” by Hilary Davidson. Thomas & Mercer, 296 pages, $24.95
Family dynamics and communication issues fuel the intriguing family drama “Her Last Breath,” the second standalone novel by two-time Anthony Award winner Hilary Davidson.
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Two sisters with radically different lives form the heart of “Her Last Breath”. A tattooed loner who lives in a low-end Brooklyn apartment, Deirdre Crawley barely makes a living delivering and arranging packages for high-end customers too busy to put their spices in a closet. His beloved sister Caroline “Caro” Thraxton is married well, lives on the Upper East Side, with a satisfying career as a public relations manager for her in-laws’ upscale hotel company, and a lovable 4 year old son.
Deirdre hasn’t spoken to her sister in a while, unable to forgive Caro for keeping in touch with their estranged father. Deirdre is unprepared for the depth of her grief when Caro unexpectedly dies while on the run. Grief turns to revenge when she receives a post-dated email from Caro, saying that if she dies, her husband Theo is to blame and that he killed his first wife.
Davidson’s hard-hitting writing and character affinity propel “Her Last Breath” as Deirdre engages with Theo’s hateful sister and mercurial father, with seemingly pleasant demeanor. Davidson is careful to make each character three-dimensional, not allowing any of them to be villains in their own right. This is especially true of Theo, who shows a quick temper but also a willingness to look into his own past.
As her investigation continues, Deirdre examines why she likes confrontation, but Caro has avoided it. “I had seen Caro’s unvarnished truths about our family. Nothing could have prepared me for this. The fast-paced plot moves seamlessly from New York neighborhoods to Berlin, Germany.
Davidson, best known for her series on travel journalist Lily Moore, delivers a solid story about complex families in “Her Last Breath.”
Oline H. Cogdill can be reached at email@example.com.
Join Oline H. Cogdill for the “Trouble in the Neighborhood” panel with Tracy Clark (“Runner”), Hilary Davidson (“Her Last Breath”), David Bell (“Kill All Your Darlings”) and Jim O’Born (” The Russian”) at 2:30 p.m. on August 21 via the Palm Beach Library System. events.pbclibrary.org/node/18809/register for free registration. An access code to access the event via Zoom will be sent by email after registration. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.