Every time the reader thinks this story’s turning right, it takes a hard left. But it never wanders in circles, and it does...

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THE BLINDS

A tense, broiling, 21st-century Western with a crafty premise and a gruesomely high body count.

Imagine HBO's Westworld, only without androids and taking place far closer to our own era, and you basically have the setting of this bleak-yet-antic prairie-noir novel by Sternbergh (Near Enemy, 2015, etc.). Somewhere in the most isolated reaches of the Texas Panhandle is the tiny, hardscrabble town of Caesura (“rhymes with tempura”), the population of which consists entirely of transplanted criminals who have not only been given new identities, but have had the memories of whatever they did to be relocated totally erased. It’s part of an experimental program in behavior modification, and the community’s got some pretty peculiar rules, one being that the residents’ new names are compounds of movie stars and U.S. vice presidents. Examples include Spiro Mitchum, Greta Fillmore, Buster Ford, and Hubert Gable, the last of whom is the second resident within a week to have been found shot dead. Gable was killed in an apparent bar fight while the first death was an apparent suicide. Because these are the first such deaths in the town’s eight-year history, it’s become a priority puzzler for sheriff Calvin Cooper (yep, another alias) and his deputies, one of whom, a bright young woman named Dawes, thinks she knows where to look for a connection. Meanwhile, the parched stillness of what many of its residents call the Blinds is soon shattered by more than just errant gunfire; black vans carrying people with suits, dark glasses, and firearms appear, and the new arrivals start asking questions of their own that may have something to do with Calvin’s good friend Fran Adams and her young son, Isaac. Two things are clear: nobody in this story is who they’re supposed to be, and their secrets carry a high cost.

Every time the reader thinks this story’s turning right, it takes a hard left. But it never wanders in circles, and it does move like a championship stock car toward a climax that, however shattering, implies there’s more to come.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2017

ISBN: 978-0-06-266134-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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