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13 Thrillers to Keep You Up at Night

The unusual premise will hook you, but it’s Billingham’s patience and persuasiveness in unfolding its grim details that will...

THE KILLING HABIT

One of DI Tom Thorne’s most harrowing cases begins with evidence that someone’s taken to slaughtering…cats.

“Tomicide?” Thorne’s boss, DCI Russell Brigstocke, wonders if the Homicide squad should rename itself after it’s asked to investigate the gruesome deaths of at least 15 cats throughout greater London. Since butchering animals is, along with wetting the bed and setting fires, one of the classic symptoms of a nascent serial killer, the powers that be are worried that someone is preparing for a more serious spate of felonies. But consulting psychiatrist Dr. Melita Perera plants a still more disturbing seed in Thorne’s head: What if, instead of working up to homicide, the cat killer is actually cooling down in between human murders? As soon as Thorne and DI Nicola Tanner, back on the job after her partner’s own murder (Love Like Blood, 2017), start to look for unsolved cases, an unnervingly large number of possibilities leap out: retired librarian Patricia Somersby, Bristol University student Annette Mangan, Norwich physician Leila Fadel, all of them strangled by an unknown person who remains at large—not to mention Alice Matthews, a victim who’s still cooling in the mortuary. In addition to spearheading Operation Felix, Thorne and Tanner must also decide whether city trader Andrew Evans, recently released from prison after his distracted driving claimed the life of a boy he ran down, can possibly be innocent in the fatal shooting of Adnan Jandali, like Evans a drug addict hopelessly in debt to his suppliers, despite the mountain of evidence against him. The main feature the two cases seem to share is an endless tangle of false leads. Will they converge in some more spectacular fashion?

The unusual premise will hook you, but it’s Billingham’s patience and persuasiveness in unfolding its grim details that will keep you reading long past the hour when all cats are gray.

Pub Date: June 26, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-8021-2824-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Atlantic Monthly

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

The husband-and-wife team writing as Kepler piles on the atmosphere, shocks, and details that are just as unsparing...

THE HYPNOTIST

You know you’ve arrived in the empyrean of Nordic noir when a multigenerational crimefest first translated into English in 2011 gets “a thrilling new translation” only seven years later.

Incredible but true: Whoever stabbed high school science teacher Anders Ek to death and began to dismember his body then turned to his wife and daughter and slaughtered them as well. The only survivors were Evelyn Ek, who was off at the university studying political science, and her teenage brother, Josef, who’s clinging to life after his own savage attack. Convinced that “someone wanted to wipe out an entire family, and probably thinks he’s succeeded,” Detective Joona Linna, of the National Crime Police, can think of nothing but finding and protecting Evelyn from the killer. To that end, he’s willing to take extreme measures. Unable to question the comatose Josef about his memories of the carnage, he asks trauma specialist Dr. Erik Maria Bark to put Josef into a hypnotic trance that will relax him enough to respond to a few questions. Although Erik hasn’t hypnotized anyone for 10 years, he eventually yields to Joona’s pressure, and all hell breaks loose, beginning with the fact that Josef’s testimony seems to implicate no one more damningly than himself. The fallout gives Erik as compelling a motive as Joona (The Sandman, 2018, etc.) for getting to the bottom of the mystery even as it cuts the ground out from under his feet, and a long, jagged flashback to the last time Erik hypnotized anyone hints that the current murder spree is only the tip of a very frigid iceberg.

The husband-and-wife team writing as Kepler piles on the atmosphere, shocks, and details that are just as unsparing psychologically as they are physically. The result is some memorably over-the-top plotting and a guarantee of sleepless nights that will only begin with the night you stay up reading.

Pub Date: July 31, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-43312-5

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Vintage Crime/Black Lizard

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

Though its climax couldn’t possibly live up to the harrowing story it ends, French’s legion of fans will rejoice that she’s...

THE DAY OF THE DEAD

French closes the saga of consulting psychologist Frieda Klein with the story of a criminology student who, casting around for a topic for her dissertation, chooses “In the Footsteps of Dr. Klein,” a choice that turns her life into a nightmare.

Lola Hayes has no idea what to write about for her final paper at the University of London’s Guildhall College. Her lazy adviser, hearing her say, “I’d much rather write about people than ideas or science,” directs her: “You want a person?...Here’s a person. Have you ever heard of Frieda Klein?” Lola hasn’t, but she reads up on Frieda, talks to her archenemy, Guildhall profiler professor Hal Bradshaw, and eventually tracks her down. That’s no mean feat in itself, since Frieda, pursued once more by monumentally patient serial killer Dean Reeve, has gone into hiding, and even her closest friends don’t know or won’t say where. Apart from his earlier track record, there’s good reason for Frieda to fear Reeve, who’s started to kill more or less random people in order to flush her out of hiding so she can protect the next innocent. One victim is found after his car crashes through a shop window; another’s bicycle is struck by a hit-and-run driver; a third turns up dead on Hampstead Heath. DC Dan Quarry and his new boss, DCI Bill Dugdale, have yet to realize that Dean Reeve is behind the latest round of mayhem. After Frieda agrees to take in Lola, she agrees to meet Reeve alone in a place he’s picked, and Lola, frantic to prevent what she sees as Frieda’s suicidal acquiescence, acts to protect her. Ungrateful Frieda promises her: “One day you’ll want to get in a time machine, come back and stop yourself doing what you did today.” If anything, that turns out to be an understatement.

Though its climax couldn’t possibly live up to the harrowing story it ends, French’s legion of fans will rejoice that she’s capped her memorable week of thrillers (Sunday Silence, 2017, etc.) with this nerve-shredding eighth day.

Pub Date: July 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-267670-2

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

Gripping as always and grimly realistic.

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THE OTHER WOMAN

Gabriel Allon is back in action.

For a time, it looked like Israel’s most famous spy might actually retreat to a desk job. In The Black Widow (2016) and The House of Spies (2017), it seemed as if Allon's creator was bringing younger, secondary characters to the foreground, but Allon has now taken center stage again. In this way and others, Silva's latest feels like a throwback to some of the earlier books in the series as well as to spy novels of the Cold War era. This is not the product of a lack of creativity on Silva’s part but rather a reflection of current events. Russia is the adversary here, and Allon and his team must find the one woman who can reveal the identity of a mole who has reached the highest echelons of Britain’s MI6. The search will take Allon deep into the past, into the secret heart of one of the 20th century's greatest intelligence scandals. Silva’s work has always had a political edge, and his storytelling has only grown more biting recently. Although he doesn’t name the current American leader, he does mention “a presidential tryst with an adult film star” as well as that president’s strange fondness for Vladimir Putin. Silva depicts a world in which communist true believers are dying out while far-right populists around the world look to the New Russia as a triumph of hard-line nationalism. The alliances that have sustained Western democracies are fraying, and Europe is preparing for a future in which the United States is no longer a reliable friend, nor a superpower. Silva’s work is always riveting, but this summer blockbuster isn’t exactly an escape—especially for readers who stick around for the author’s note at the end. Although the Gabriel Allon novels are interrelated, Silva is adept at crafting narratives that can stand alone. This thriller will satisfy the author’s fans while it will also appeal to those who appreciate past masters of the genre like John le Carré and Graham Greene.

Gripping as always and grimly realistic.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-283482-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: July 2, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2018

An exemplary true-crime book, and with an HBO adaptation in the works, this book will be enjoyed by any reader with an...

I'LL BE GONE IN THE DARK

ONE WOMAN'S OBSESSIVE SEARCH FOR THE GOLDEN STATE KILLER

The Golden State Killer is once again in the headlines after finally being caught. This book about the search for him is sure to catch—and keep—readers’ attention.

McNamara, a TV screenwriter and true-crime blog and magazine writer, was particularly captivated by the man she dubbed the Golden State Killer. A prolific criminal who left dozens of cold cases (including at least 12 murders and 50 rapes) in his wake, the GSK had been glimpsed but never seen, and the author was sure he would be caught despite evading police for over 30 years. She hunted him mostly through online research, and she became friends with other cold-case enthusiasts, detectives, and others who still pursued justice, giving her unparalleled access to information about the GSK and his crimes. In this explosive book, McNamara combines her prodigious research with her impressive storytelling skills and ability to seamlessly weave the narratives of all those lives into one terrifying story. Sadly, the author died in 2016 before finishing the book (her husband, Patton Oswalt, provides the afterword), and the manuscript was completed by investigative journalist Billy Jensen and her lead researcher, Paul Haynes. The last section of the book is written in exactly the style one would expect from an investigative journalist: no nonsense and loaded with facts and relevant observations. For armchair true-crime enthusiasts, this cold case, packed with countless cases and near misses, would have been captivating based on nothing but the dry facts. However, in McNamara’s skilled hands, this enthralling book becomes so much more: a detective story with an unlikely narrator, a study in changing forensic techniques, a multidecade saga that never loses urgency, and a potent analysis of human behavior in victims, witnesses, investigators, and onlookers.

An exemplary true-crime book, and with an HBO adaptation in the works, this book will be enjoyed by any reader with an interest in human nature, crime, puzzles, and investigative dramas.

Pub Date: Feb. 27, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-231978-4

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Harper/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Crime fiction doesn't get any more enjoyable.

HOW IT HAPPENED

Boston FBI agent Rob Barrett gets himself sent to Port Hope, Maine, the town where his grandfather lived and where he spent his childhood summers, to help crack the case of a young couple's murder, which appears to have been committed by a childhood antagonist of Barrett's.

To the surprise of local cops who haven't been able to get 22-year-old drug addict Kimberly Crepeaux to utter a word about the murders of Jackie Pelletier and Ian Kelly since she turned herself in and admitted she was part of it, interrogation specialist Barrett quickly gets her to open up about everything. She swears the killer was Mathias Burke—despite his reputation as "the paragon of the peninsula"—a local man who had built up a large landscaping and caretaking business. Kimmy says Mathias forced her and her friend Cass Odom to help him dump the bodies in a pond, but when divers can't find any corpses, evidence points to another suspect, and a humiliated Barrett is forced to admit Kimmy must be lying. He's reassigned to Montana—to the taunting delight of Mathias. Months later, after having received repeated phone messages from Kimmy, who's just out of jail, and from Jackie Pelletier's pleading father, Barrett returns to Maine to resume his investigation on the sly. There, he has his eyes opened to the lethal toll of a heroin blend that was responsible for Cass' death three days after Jackie and Ian's murders. The only questions are how Mathias is connected to all those deaths and what price Barrett will pay in his pursuit of the truth. Is Koryta capable of telling a less-than-gripping tale? This book may not be as ambitious as his best efforts (including Rise the Dark, 2016), but it is flawless, unpredictable storytelling streaked with his usual dark undercurrents.

Crime fiction doesn't get any more enjoyable.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-29393-8

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

Crackling with tension, and the sound of pages turning, as twist after twist sweeps away each hypothesis you come up with...

THE WOMAN IN THE WINDOW

A lonely woman in New York spends her days guzzling merlot, popping pills, and spying on the neighbors—until something she sees sucks her into a vortex of terror.

“The Miller home across the street—abandon hope, all ye who enter here—is one of five townhouses that I can survey from the south-facing windows of my own.” A new family is moving in on her Harlem street, and Dr. Anna Fox already knows their names, employment histories, how much they paid for their house, and anything else you can find out using a search engine. Following a mysterious accident, Anna is suffering from agoraphobia so severe that she hasn't left her house in months. She speaks to her husband and daughter on the phone—they've moved out because "the doctors say too much contact isn't healthy"—and conducts her relationships with her neighbors wholly through the zoom lens of her Nikon D5500. As she explains to fellow sufferers in her online support group, food and medication (not to mention cases of wine) can be delivered to your door; your housecleaner can take out the trash. Anna’s psychiatrist and physical therapist make house calls; a tenant in her basement pinch-hits as a handyman. To fight boredom, she’s got online chess and a huge collection of DVDs; she has most of Hitchcock memorized. Both the game of chess and noir movie plots—Rear Window, in particular—will become spookily apt metaphors for the events that unfold when the teenage son of her new neighbors knocks on her door to deliver a gift from his mother. Not long after, his mother herself shows up…and then Anna witnesses something almost too shocking to be real happening in their living room. Boredom won’t be a problem any longer.

Crackling with tension, and the sound of pages turning, as twist after twist sweeps away each hypothesis you come up with about what happened in Anna’s past and what fresh hell is unfolding now.

Pub Date: Jan. 2, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-06-267841-6

Page Count: 448

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Oct. 10, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 2017

An addictively readable—and undeniably cool—fantasy masterwork.

THE GREY BASTARDS

French’s adrenaline-fueled adventure fantasy, which features badass gangs of tattooed half-orcs on the backs of giant war hogs thundering across a lawless wasteland, is an unapologetically brutal thrill ride—like Mad Max set in Tolkien’s Middle-earth.

The Lot Lands are sprawling badlands that separate the realm of humans (frails) from the orcs (thicks). Seen as abominations from both sides, the half-orcs exist in loose outlaw clans that patrol the Lot Lands, keeping the frails safe from orc attack, as has been their sole duty for generations. Jackal is a member of the Grey Bastards, and although he loves his home in the Kiln—a seemingly impenetrable fortress that can heat its outsides like a blast furnace when attacked—he believes the leader of the Bastards, an old half-orc twisted with disease called the Claymaster, should be overthrown. The arrival of a half-orc wizard has increased the Claymaster’s strange behavior. Jackal’s childhood friend Oats—a giant thrice-blood (the product of a half-orc breeding with an orc)—backs his decision to attempt to head the Bastards, but when the group puts it to a vote, a tough female half-orc who Jackal thought had his back chooses the Claymaster, effectively exiling him into the Lot Lands. With the future of the Bastards in jeopardy, Jackal embarks on an epic adventure that includes saving an elven girl imprisoned by a demon that lives in a massive swath of bogland saturated with dark magic, becoming a folk hero to a community of halflings after battling crazed centaurs, and, most important, discovering the true history of the Lot Lands and the reason for the half-orc patrols. Powered by unparalleled worldbuilding, polished storytelling, and relentless pacing, French’s novel is a cool fusion of classic adventure fantasy and 21st-century pop-culture sensibilities with nonstop action; a cast of unforgettable and brilliantly authentic characters; vulgar but witty dialogue; and strong female characters who overturn old sexist conventions. This is a dirty, blood-soaked gem of a novel.

An addictively readable—and undeniably cool—fantasy masterwork.

Pub Date: June 19, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-57244-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

The subtly arch first-person narrative gives the third series installment from Phillips (The Perpetual Summer, 2018, etc.) a...

THE BIG CON

Corporate coaching can be fatal.

The wheels of corporate culture turn slowly. So it takes nearly a decade for HR executive and sometime sleuth Chuck Restic to phase out his Los Angeles company's involvement with the questionable consulting firm Power of One, a grandiose enterprise with a tenacious and charismatic leader but only two full-time employees. When Chuck visits the luxe home of Power’s head, Julie St. Jean, he’s surprised to find instead her business partner, Rebecca, who turns out, to his surprise, to be living with her. And that’s not the biggest surprise he gets. Inside Julie’s beautifully appointed “Dojo,” he and Rebecca discover the corpse of Lois Hearns, a freelance Power contractor. Two LA police detectives question and release Chuck and Rebecca. When Chuck meets with Rebecca a few days later, however, the news that Julie’s gone missing leads him to team up, however uneasily, with Rebecca, who’s as anxious to find her partner as he is. Her abandoned Bentley has been found at Union Station. Chuck’s questions cause Rebecca to realize how little she knows about Julie. The discovery of another body, that of a man named Fitch whom both Chuck and Rebecca claim not to know, leads to more mutual distrust even as it hints at a more dangerous killer. The pieces of the puzzle begin to come together with the revelation that Lois Hearns was a lawyer who brokered a prospective sale of Power of One. Even so, more victims will be claimed before Chuck can put it all together.

The subtly arch first-person narrative gives the third series installment from Phillips (The Perpetual Summer, 2018, etc.) a smooth noir vibe, and the additional wrinkle of an unreliable sidekick adds delicious tension to a plot that unfolds with a satisfying series of twists.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-945551-26-0

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Prospect Park Books

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

A waggish, hallucinatory, blood-soaked demonstration of the maxims collected in the titular Baby’s First Felony, a brief,...

BABY'S FIRST FELONY

After 17 years, Straley checks back in with Cecil Younger and the citizens of Sitka, Alaska, and finds them as wacky as ever and even more murderous—a description that applies this time to Cecil as well.

When criminal defense investigators for the Public Defender Agency find themselves in courthouses, it’s not unusual for them to say, “If it please the Court,” as Cecil does in opening his narrative. But his following words—“Your Honors, I stand before you today to tell the story of what happened”—broadly hint from the beginning that he’s in court in a somewhat different capacity than usual. There follows what must surely be the longest, strangest allocution in history or fiction or even in the annals of Straley’s cockeyed investigator (Cold Water Burning, 2001, etc.). Nine months after Melissa Bean, a fellow high school student of Cecil’s daughter, Blossom, goes missing, her body is found, and Sherri Gault is arrested for her murder. The arrest puts Cecil in an awkward situation for several reasons. Sherri has been a repeat client of his; her longtime partner, a lowlife known as Sweeper who’s been an even more frequent client, is eager to sign on as an informant after the latest of his countless arrests; domestic violence charges seem possible for both parties. Things get even worse when Sherri sends Cecil to visit a hotel room she’s stayed in to collect some important evidence, which turns out to be a box stuffed with money. Clearly there’s more going on here than the usual revolving door of low-level felonies, and the current gets both muddier and more urgent when Blossom and her friend Thistle disappear as well, casting Cecil, who’s barely competent as an investigator, as a righteously violent avenger.

A waggish, hallucinatory, blood-soaked demonstration of the maxims collected in the titular Baby’s First Felony, a brief, fully illustrated do-it-yourself manual for stupid criminals that’s helpfully appended after the judges’ verdict on the hero.

Pub Date: July 3, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-61695-878-7

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Soho Crime

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

Townsend’s debut is driven by brisk plotting with bursts of stylish prose. Her eye for sharp character details makes her one...

SEE HER RUN

Investigating an apparent suicide by overdose forces a former reporter to confront her own past.

When disgraced reporter Aloa Snow starts to dig into the death of Hayley Poole, she’s in it for the paycheck and not the mystery. The $15,000 promised her for fleshing out the story would go a long way to covering her debts, and her name’s been worthless in the reporting world ever since she fudged some facts rushing out a story while dealing with her mother’s death. If Aloa had another option to earn the cash, she’d take it, because she doesn’t want Michael Collins, the guy behind the dollars, to think he has any right to her time or attention. A long time ago, when they were still in school, tragedy struck Michael’s family, and Aloa’s dad insisted on taking Michael in and raising him alongside his daughter—which was all well and good until Michael took off one day without a word, breaking Aloa’s heart along with her father’s. Now Michael’s grown rich as a software developer, and his interest in this case simultaneously intrigues and angers Aloa, who’s developing her own relationship to the history surrounding Hayley. The dead woman was a professional adventure runner along with her boyfriend, Ethan, who was killed under mysterious circumstance six months before Hayley died. Aloa uncovers connections between Hayley’s life, a dietary supplement gone wrong, international terrorism, and other possible motives for murder, but given the drugs found in Hayley’s system, the cops are likely to write this off as an addict come to a bad end unless Aloa can unravel the truth.

Townsend’s debut is driven by brisk plotting with bursts of stylish prose. Her eye for sharp character details makes her one to watch.

Pub Date: June 1, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5039-4987-4

Page Count: 268

Publisher: Thomas & Mercer

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

The third book in Koontz's lively series tends to rehash scenes from the first two, but it's still an absorbing thriller...

THE CROOKED STAIRCASE

Former FBI agent Jane Hawk continues her no-holds-barred campaign against the mind-control conspiracy that caused the suicide of her decorated Marine husband.

In past adventures (The Whispering Room, 2017, etc.), Hawk dispatched some of the baddies responsible for creating and injecting brainwashing nanotech implants—and dramatically raising the national suicide rate. With the cabal entrenched in government agencies and private industry, she got indicted for espionage, treason, and murder and is now the most wanted person in America. Continuing her mission to restore her husband's good name and nail Booth Hendrickson, the corrupt Department of Justice figure behind the conspiracy, she must evade all manner of sophisticated surveillance technology. Her path to Hendrickson is through his half brother, Simon, a mother-obsessed sociopath who tortures and psychologically breaks women. To get to Simon, Hawk must tame his naïve spitfire girlfriend, the memorably named Petra Quist. For Hawk, who is as fearless as she is beautiful, no obstacle is too great, especially with the well-being of her hidden-away 5-year-old son on her mind. There is seemingly nothing she doesn't know, from intricate details about alarm systems to the functions of the three pairs of saliva glands. She's also a skilled pianist. With many pages devoted to a less compelling parallel mind-scrubbing story about brilliant young fraternal twins, the book sometimes bogs down in the padding. But writing his unusual heroine, Koontz keeps the pages alive with attitude as well as action.

The third book in Koontz's lively series tends to rehash scenes from the first two, but it's still an absorbing thriller full of fresh touches.

Pub Date: May 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-525-48342-7

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

It’s good, dark fun: a feminist noir love child of Thelma and Louise and The Godfather.

WIDOWS

In La Plante’s (Good Friday, 2017, etc.) classic thriller, three women orchestrate a heist after their criminal husbands die in an explosives accident.

Harry Rawlins has a reputation on the street for being both organized and ruthless. When he's killed in a heist gone wrong, along with two of his criminal associates, the violent Fisher brothers start sniffing around for his ledgers, in which Harry infamously documented every detail of every job. Harry’s widow, Dolly, is devastated by the loss of her urbane and unscrupulous husband, but she is also determined not to let either the Fishers or the police have access to Harry’s ledgers. Instead, she recruits the other widows to help her pull off the job that killed their husbands. At first the three women, who couldn’t be more different, struggle to work together, but gradually they forge a friendship through their unconventional bonding activity. But there's still the problem of the fourth man, the one who walked away from Harry’s heist and can anticipate their every move. The novel starts slowly; La Plante’s writing is dense, and there are an awful lot of characters to keep straight. But as the women begin to work toward their goal, they become complex and interesting characters. They aren’t completely likable, but this proves La Plante’s ability to write realistic women who aren’t always beautiful, charming, or even sensible. Instead, they are survivors—honest and determined, smart and courageous as hell. The novel was first published more than 30 years ago, but it's aged seamlessly; other than the fact that no one has a cellphone, it hardly feels dated at all. As conversations about equality and intimacy in Hollywood and the workplace finally become commonplace, the reissue seems particularly timely and relevant.

It’s good, dark fun: a feminist noir love child of Thelma and Louise and The Godfather.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-4998-6155-6

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Bonnier Zaffre

Review Posted Online: March 20, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2018

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