A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.

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LAY SAINTS

Influence peddling—the telepathic kind—fuels the big city in this hard-boiled but soulful fantasy thriller.

After years spent conveying the thoughts of small-town coma patients to their relatives, 20-something psychic Calder heads for Manhattan, where he’s snapped up by a man named Sotto and his crew of psychics-for-hire. Like everything else in New York, ESP is a racket: By telepathically sussing out potential blackmail fodder or implanting irresistible commands in a target’s mind, Sotto’s contractors will, for a reasonable fee, convince a client’s troublesome tenant to move, a boss to confer a promotion or a business competitor to close up shop. Unfortunately, Calder’s first assignment—swaying a city councilman’s vote on a real estate development—bogs down when the pol proves to be a rare “stone”—someone impervious to psychic manipulation. Mentored by a psychic amateur boxer who doesn’t mind dishing out the occasional old-school beating-as-persuasion, Calder resorts to ever more frantic mental string-pulling as he fends off a rival crew trying to lobby the council in the opposite direction. Meanwhile, he drinks in an atmospheric demimonde—New York City is in many ways the novel’s beguiling antagonist—that includes a stripper with a heart of gold, a priest with a taste for demented violence and thuggish psychic twins who try to run him out of town with an excruciating headache. Connell (Counterfeit Kings, 2004) pulls the psychic scenario out of the usual mystical dungeon and gives it a bracing, noir-edged urban naturalism. For all their supernatural powers, his characters are prosaic working stiffs: hardened, on the make and embroiled in murderous criminal turf battles, yet reigned in—sometimes—by a modicum of professional ethics or Catholic guilt. Despite their direct links to other minds, they reveal themselves mainly in long, discursive conversations that meander through offbeat observations, half-remembered anecdotes and curlicued philosophical ruminations, all phrased in a fluid, punchy, endlessly entertaining vernacular. The engrossing result feels like an ESP-themed mashup of The Sopranos and The Wire as scripted by Quentin Tarantino.

A stylish reimagining of the psychic mystery genre.

Pub Date: April 23, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 434

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2012

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

DEVOLUTION

Are we not men? We are—well, ask Bigfoot, as Brooks does in this delightful yarn, following on his bestseller World War Z (2006).

A zombie apocalypse is one thing. A volcanic eruption is quite another, for, as the journalist who does a framing voice-over narration for Brooks’ latest puts it, when Mount Rainier popped its cork, “it was the psychological aspect, the hyperbole-fueled hysteria that had ended up killing the most people.” Maybe, but the sasquatches whom the volcano displaced contributed to the statistics, too, if only out of self-defense. Brooks places the epicenter of the Bigfoot war in a high-tech hideaway populated by the kind of people you might find in a Jurassic Park franchise: the schmo who doesn’t know how to do much of anything but tries anyway, the well-intentioned bleeding heart, the know-it-all intellectual who turns out to know the wrong things, the immigrant with a tough backstory and an instinct for survival. Indeed, the novel does double duty as a survival manual, packed full of good advice—for instance, try not to get wounded, for “injury turns you from a giver to a taker. Taking up our resources, our time to care for you.” Brooks presents a case for making room for Bigfoot in the world while peppering his narrative with timely social criticism about bad behavior on the human side of the conflict: The explosion of Rainier might have been better forecast had the president not slashed the budget of the U.S. Geological Survey, leading to “immediate suspension of the National Volcano Early Warning System,” and there’s always someone around looking to monetize the natural disaster and the sasquatch-y onslaught that follows. Brooks is a pro at building suspense even if it plays out in some rather spectacularly yucky episodes, one involving a short spear that takes its name from “the sucking sound of pulling it out of the dead man’s heart and lungs.” Grossness aside, it puts you right there on the scene.

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Pub Date: June 16, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-2678-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Del Rey/Ballantine

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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