Dysfunctional siblings in New York wig out when the eldest blows their shared inheritance.
In an arresting prologue to this generous, absorbing novel, Leo Plumb leaves his cousin’s wedding early, drunk and high, with one of the waitresses and has a car accident whose exact consequences are withheld for quite some time. To make his troubles go away, Leo pillages a $2 million account known as “The Nest,” left by his father for the four children to share after the youngest of them turns 40, though in a sweet running joke, everyone keeps forgetting exactly when that is. Leo’s siblings have been counting heavily on this money to resolve their financial troubles and are horrified to learn that their mother has let Leo burn almost all of it. A meeting is called at Grand Central Oyster Bar—one of many sharply observed New York settings—to discuss Leo’s plans to pay them back. Will Leo even show? Three days out of rehab, he barely makes it through Central Park. But he does appear and promises to make good, and despite his history of unreliability, the others remain enough under the spell of their charismatic brother to fall for it. The rest of the book is a wise, affectionate study of how expectations play out in our lives—not just financial ones, but those that control our closest relationships. Sweeney’s endearing characters are quirky New Yorkers all: Bea Plumb is a widowed writer who tanked after three stories that made her briefly one of “New York’s Newest Voices: Who You Should Be Reading.” Jack Plumb, known as “Leo Lite” in high school to his vast irritation, is a gay antiques dealer married to a lawyer; truly desperate for cash, he becomes involved in a shady deal involving a work of art stolen from the ruins of the World Trade Center. Melody, the youngest, lives in the suburbs in a house she’s about to lose and is obsessed with tracking her teenage twins using an app called Stalkerville. The insouciance with which they thwart her is another metaphor for the theme of this lively novel.
A fetching debut from an author who knows her city, its people, and their hearts.
You get in your car, drive to work, park, and go inside. An ordinary day—except, back at home, someone is chopping your wife to bits, the opening gambit in Brundage’s (A Stranger Like You, 2010, etc.) smart, atmospheric thriller.
Here’s the thing about creepy old farmhouses: they’re full of ghosts, and ax murderers lurk in the tree line. Art history professor George Clare is a rational fellow, but when he moves into the country to teach at a small-town college, he finds his colleagues making odd assumptions: since he knows a thing or two about Swedenborg, then he must be game for a séance. Catherine, his young wife, whose “beauty did not go unnoticed” even out among the yokels, has long since sunk into a quiet depression. They have problems. She doesn’t live long enough to grow to hate the country, though she senses early on that the place they’ve bought from a foreclosed-on local family is fraught with supernatural danger: “Until this house,” she thinks, “she’d never thought seriously of ghosts, at all. Yet, as the days passed, their existence wasn’t even a question anymore—she just knew.” Yup. Question is, who would do her in, leaving a single grim witness, the terrified daughter? There’s no shortage of suspects on the mortal plane, to say nothing of the supernatural. Part procedural, part horror story, part character study, Brundage’s literate yarn is full of telling moments: George is like a “tedious splinter” in Catherine’s mind, while George dismisses her concerns that maybe they shouldn’t be living in a place where horrible things have happened with, “As usual, you’re overreacting.” But more, and better, Brundage carries the arc of her story into the future, where the children of the nightmare, scarred by poverty, worry, meth, Iraq, are bound up in its consequences, the weight of all those ghosts, whether real or imagined, upon them forever.
With a storyline that tightens like a constrictor, this is a book that you won’t want to read alone late at night.
A clash of swords, spells, and wills erupts in an upper Manhattan office building under assault by well-armed mercenaries.
A dense mythology threatens to undermine this frenetic action novel by award-winning short story writer Gonzales (The Miniature Wife, 2013), but the author just manages to wobble to the end of a novel rife with paranormal forces, violence, and revenge. Much of the exposition comes from selections from a nonfiction history of “The Regional Office,” a shadowy organization operating under the cover of an extreme-travel concierge service for wealthy clients. The firm’s equally murky mission is to protect the world from evil forces using Oracles seemingly plucked wholesale from Philip K. Dick’s "Minority Report" and homegrown female assassins who wouldn’t be out of place in The Matrix. The action of the assault centers on two women: Rose, who leads a team of traitorous operatives in attacking the venerable institution, and agency executive Sarah, who fiercely defends her office with speed, strength, and a badass mechanical arm. There’s also something of a love story buried beneath all the chaos, involving Rose’s mentor, Henry, and the woman for whom he abandons his allegiance to the Regional Office. But stripped down to its essentials, the novel is a hyperkinetic sci-fi set piece along the lines of Die Hard seeded with paranormal elements cribbed from half a dozen other franchises and the absent-parent grudges that fuel any number of teen novels. At times, the book struggles to regain its brisk pace as Gonzales plumbs flashbacks, interludes, and the conveniently parallel history of the Regional Office to flesh out characters, back story, and motives. Nevertheless, genre enthusiasts will love the spooky cyberpunk spirit at play here, and resolute readers will be rewarded with an unexpected ending that ratchets up the action long after the Regional Office has been abandoned.
A surprisingly erudite bit of sci-fi that throws in everything but the kitchen sink.
When his estranged friend and fellow corporate spy for hire Ben Webster disappears in the republic of Georgia, Ike Hammer puts his life at risk searching for him in the treacherous mountains bordering Russia.
It's been 10 years since the 58-year-old Hammer was in the field. He heads back out with great reluctance, furious at his morally crusading partner for putting their company at risk. In the capital city of Tbilisi, amid riots, bombings, and madness, Hammer is in way over his head. He's a wealthy and resourceful man, but this is one place where neither his money nor his promises can buy off the cops, government officials, and mobsters who threaten to imprison or kill him for sniffing around. He finds an oasis of humanity in the person of Natela, the widow of the murdered journalist whose funeral Webster went to Georgia to attend. Not until Hammer forges deep into the mountains and is helped by other kind souls does he discover both the real heart of Georgia and missing pieces of himself. Jones is in complete control with this, his third novel featuring Webster and Hammer. In the previous two, The Silent Oligarch (2012) and The Jackal's Share (2013), Hammer played a supporting role. Here, he proves himself a lead player of great appeal, combining deep intelligence with just the right amount of dash.
Suspenseful from start to finish, with plenty of regional color informing the narrative, Jones' third spy thriller is a flawless piece of storytelling.
Coben (The Stranger, 2015, etc.) hits the bull’s eye again with this taut tale of a disgraced combat veteran whose homefront life is turned upside down by an image captured by her nanny cam.
Recent widows can’t be too careful, and the day she buries the husband who was shot by a pair of muggers in Central Park, Maya Burkett installs a concealed camera in her home to keep an eye on Lily, her 2-year-old daughter, and her nanny, Isabella Mendez , while she’s out at her job as a flight instructor. She’s shocked beyond belief when she checks the footage and sees images of her murdered husband returned from the grave to her den. Confronted with the video, Isabella claims she doesn’t see anything that looks like Joe Burkett, then blasts Maya with pepper spray and takes off with the memory card. Should Maya go to the police? They were no help when her sister, Claire, was killed in a home invasion while she was deployed in the Middle East, and she doesn’t trust Roger Kierce, the NYPD homicide detective heading the investigation of Joe’s murder. Besides, Maya’s already juggling a heavy load of baggage. Whistle-blower Corey Rudzinski ended her military career when he posted footage of her ordering a defensive airstrike that killed five civilians, and she’s just waiting for him to release the audio feed that would damage her reputation even more. So after Kierce drops a bombshell—the same gun was used to shoot both Joe and Claire—Maya launches her own investigation, little knowing that it will link both murders to the death more than 10 years ago of Joe’s brother Andrew and the secrets the wealthy and powerful Burkett family has been hiding ever since.
Once again, Coben marries his two greatest strengths—masterfully paced plotting that leads to a climactic string of fireworks and the ability to root all the revelations in deeply felt emotions—in a tale guaranteed to fool even the craftiest readers a lot more than once.
A woman recalls her mysterious escape from home in this taut, controlled noir about broken families and their proximity to violence.
Moshfegh’s second novel (McGlue, 2014) is set in 1964 in a scruffy Northeastern town that’s a close neighbor to Joyce Carol Oates–land and Russell Banks–ville. The title character is a plain-Jane type stuck in a miserable job (secretary at a boys’ prison) and an even worse home life (she minds her desperately alcoholic father in an unkempt house). And though the story takes place in the days before Christmas, holiday cheer is in short supply; Eileen Dunlop describes the imprisoned boys and her contemplation of suicide with a casual, implacable cool. “People died all the time? Why couldn’t I?” The sole shaft of light arrives in the form of Rebecca Saint John, a new education director at the prison who rapidly becomes an unhealthy source of emotional solace—at one of their first meetings, Eileen is so desperate to impress she winds up a drunken mess, and there’s worse to come. Moshfegh has Eileen constantly drop hints about a climactic incident that prompts her escape from “X-ville,” but she withholds details until very near the novel’s end. But instead of testing the reader’s patience, the narrative masterfully taunts—eschewing the typical dips and rises of a novel, Moshfegh manages a slow, steady build so that the release, when it comes, registers a genuine shock. And Moshfegh has such a fine command of language and her character that you can miss just how inside out Eileen’s life becomes in the course of the novel, the way the “loud, rabid inner circuitry of my mind” overtakes her. Is she inhumane or self-empowered? Deeply unreliable or justifiably jaded? Moshfegh keeps all options on the table while keeping her heroine coherent.
A shadowy and superbly told story of how inner turmoil morphs into outer chaos.
During the local drive-in's last-ever triple feature, a mysterious explosion topples the screen, killing four people. It's not the only bizarre incident shaking up the New York town of Promise Falls, a popular suicide spot where all lives seem at risk.
A few hours after the drive-in disaster, which some locals insist was an act of terrorism—bad news for Egyptian-born bookstore owner Naman Safar—someone breaks into the home of one of the victims and steals revealing DVDs from a hidden sex lair. Police Detective Barry Duckworth already has his hands full with a series of seemingly related killings of young women. PI Cal Weaver, who is trying to get over the murders of his wife and son, is busy protecting Samantha, a laundromat owner whose ex-husband is serving time for a bank stickup. David Harwood, a former journalist reluctantly working for loathsome former mayor Randall Finley, has to explain to his son why his late mother killed a man and cut off his hand. Though Samantha is a Philip Roth fan, Barclay's dark and dizzy tour de force is like a Richard Russo novel gone off the rails. Its blue-collar setting is a bottomless pit of nefarious acts including baby theft and kidnapping. The only true innocent is Crystal, a girl with special abilities whose capacity for living inside her head must be regarded as a gift.
Barclay's sequel to Broken Promise (2015)—the third book in the series will reveal why the number 23 turns up in all kinds of bad situations here—trades in thrills for black humor. But it's a crowd-pleaser nonetheless from one of the most reliable craftsmen in crime fiction.