INVITATION TO A BONFIRE

Trembling with atmosphere, Celt’s (The Daughters, 2015) second novel follows a young Russian émigré as she becomes embroiled in a sinister love triangle with a brilliant novelist and his exceptional wife.

Constructed as a “collection of papers” bequeathed by one Vera Orlov to the posh girls' boarding school where her husband taught before his untimely death, the book begins with the end. Leo “Lev” Orlov was murdered in 1931, according to the opening “note on the text”; the same year, a young Donne School employee, Zoe “Zoya” Andropov, “died under hotly debated circumstances.” The story—primarily told through Zoya’s supposed diary entries and Lev’s letters—is about everything that happened before. The child of political dissidents, Zoya arrives in New Jersey on a ship of orphans and finds herself an out-of-place charity case at the Donne School, a dark outcast amid shiny American wealth. But while the other girls move on to college or marriage or secretarial jobs after graduation, Zoya stays on, tending the school’s greenhouse under the tutelage of the kindly gardener and obsessing, in her spare hours, over the otherworldly novels of the great Leo Orlov. And then, outside her greenhouse window in New Jersey, there he is: Lev Orlov. Encouraged by his beautiful, ice-cold wife—the engine of his career—he’s teaching at the school. Immediately, he and Zoya, fellow Russians with upbringings on opposite sides of a vast cultural divide—she’s a peasant, he’s the son of White Russian wealth—fall into a passionate affair. But as Zoya becomes increasingly involved with the Orlovs, she begins to understand that their relationship is darker and more tangled than she’d bargained for, and she finds herself a half-witting pawn for them both. An ominous snowball of a novel (very) loosely based on the Nabokov marriage, with a slow-burning first half and a second half that hurtles toward inevitable catastrophe, it’s a book that requires some patience, but that patience—carefully calculated—pays off in spades.

Rich and moody.

Pub Date: June 5, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-63557-152-3

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Bloomsbury

Review Posted Online: April 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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