by Alan Lastufka ‧ RELEASE DATE: March 8, 2022
An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.
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In this debut novel that fuses horror and supernatural mystery, a woman struggles to understand a recurring nightmare that has haunted her since childhood.
Set in the fictional town of Cellar, Ohio, in 1987, the story begins as Adriana Krause—an unemployed, single mother trying to make ends meet—is embroiled in a custody battle over her 3-year-old son, Dylan, with her estranged father, Bradley Krause. Bradley is the longtime mayor of the town. After a court judge decides that in order for Adriana to keep custody of her son, she needs to secure gainful employment in the next 30 days, her life goes from bad to worse. Dylan’s biological father, Eric—a drug addict who has had nothing to do with Adriana and her son for years—overdoses and dies on her couch while babysitting the boy as she attempts to get hired as a sketch artist for the local police department. Because of her uncanny ability to bring subjects to life on the sketch pad, she gets the job—barely—and befriends a rookie cop named Matthew Hinkley. The two are both outsiders of sorts and find common ground questioning the strange and seemingly unethical decisions coming from the mayor and the police chief. As Adriana fights to keep custody of her son, she becomes increasingly beleaguered with a dream that has haunted her for years. In the dream, she is underwater at the bottom of a lake when a rotting arm explodes from the sediment, grabs her, and begins pulling her down. When she sees the corpse’s face, it’s trying to tell her something. As her father becomes embroiled in a contentious mayoral race, Adriana and Matthew begin to piece together the clues that they’ve uncovered—some from his work with cold-case files and others from her evolving nightmare—and the conclusion they both come to is as shocking as it is gruesome.
This outstanding novel is reminiscent of early works by Stephen King and Peter Straub. Lastufka brilliantly uses subtle imagery and symbolism throughout to create a decidedly dark undertone that is simultaneously creepy and nostalgic. In the very first sequence, for example, Adriana tattoos a laughing, rotting skull onto the arm of her former boyfriend as ’80s tunes blare from the radio. The utilization of music from the era adds another layer to the narrative and creates a memorable soundtrack to Adriana’s story that includes Depeche Mode’s “Strangelove,” Prince’s “Little Red Corvette,” and Pat Benatar’s “Hit Me With Your Best Shot.” And, like the aforementioned horror luminaries, the author employs sensory descriptions masterfully, using them to fully immerse readers in the eerie atmospherics: “She listened. The water lapped gently at the shore, hundreds of branches creaked under the weight of the breeze, nearby frogs croaked at the moon, and there was a faint chiming. Adriana didn’t expect to find anything pleasant in this nightmare world, but the distant bell chimed continuously, monotone and somewhat soothing.” But, above all, it’s the surprisingly intricate plotline that powers this narrative. The wide-ranging characters—from Adriana’s neighbor’s deaf teen daughter to the courageous wife of the candidate running against Bradley—are like puzzle pieces, and with each new revelation, the grisly picture becomes clearer.An impressive, complex horror tale—two (rotting) thumbs up.
Pub Date: March 8, 2022
Page Count: 344
Publisher: Shortwave Media
Review Posted Online: Dec. 14, 2021
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2022
Review Program: Kirkus Indie
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by Lisa Jewell ‧ RELEASE DATE: Aug. 8, 2023
It's hard to read but hard to look away from.
When two women who share a birthday meet, a journalist becomes the subject of her own true-crime mystery.
On their 45th birthdays, Josie Fair and Alix Summer meet at a pub and discover they were born not only on the same day, but in the same hospital. Alix is a successful journalist, and Josie convinces Alix that her story is worth telling: Josie met her husband when she was 13 and he was 40. “I can see that maybe I was being used, that maybe I was even being groomed?” she confesses to Alix. “But that feeling of being powerful, right at the start, when I was still in control. I miss that sometimes. I really do. And what I’d like, more than anything, is to get it back.” From this premise Alix creates a Netflix series, Hi! I’m Your Birthday Twin! which investigates Josie’s life as she reconciles what happened to her as a teen and seeks a new path. With the story unfinished, the narrative unfolds in the present tense, with prose that jingles like song lyrics: “He turns to see if the girl is behind him, and sees her wishy-washy, wavy-wavy, in double vision through the glass windows of the hotel.” Alix is both intrigued and repulsed by Josie, but she initially gives her the benefit of the doubt. After all, Alix’s husband, Nathan, has a drinking problem, and Alix knows what it’s like to be reluctant to leave a bad situation. But Josie seems more interested in being part of Alix’s seemingly glamorous life than she is in fixing her own, and when three people end up dead and Alix’s life is turned upside down, the evidence points to Josie—and turns the TV series into a murder mystery. Transcripts from Alix’s interviews alternate with the narrative, offering increasingly varied perspectives on Josie’s story as told by her neighbors, friends, and family members. With so many versions of events, the ending shatters, leaving readers to decide whose is the truth.It's hard to read but hard to look away from.
Pub Date: Aug. 8, 2023
Page Count: 384
Review Posted Online: May 24, 2023
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2023
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by David Baldacci ‧ RELEASE DATE: Oct. 11, 2022
Fascinating main characters and a clever plot add up to an exciting read.
A thriller with bloody murders and plenty of suspects and featuring an unlikely partnership between two FBI investigators.
FBI consultant Amos Decker has a lot on his mind. The huge fellow once played for the Cleveland Browns in the NFL until he received a catastrophic brain injury, leaving him with synesthesia; he sees death as electric blue. More pertinent to the plot, he also has hyperthymesia, or spontaneous and highly accurate recall. On the one hand, his memories can be horrible. He’d once come home to find his wife and daughter murdered, dead in pools of blood. Later, he listens helplessly on the telephone while his ex-partner shoots herself in the mouth. On the other hand, his memory helps him solve every case he's given. Now he's sent to Florida with a brand-new partner, Special Agent Frederica White, to investigate the murder of a federal judge. Both partners are pissed at their last-minute pairing, and they immediately see themselves as a bad fit. White is a diminutive Black single mother of two who has a double black belt in karate “because I hate getting my ass kicked.” (The author doesn't mention Decker's race, but since he's being contrasted with his new partner in every way, perhaps readers are expected to see him as White. Clarity would be nice.) Their case is strange: Judge Julia Cummins was stabbed 10 times and her face covered with a mask, while her bodyguard was shot to death. Decker and White puzzle over the “very contrarian crime scene” where two murders seem to have been committed by two different people in the same place. The plot gets complex, with suspects galore. But the interpersonal dynamic between Decker and White is just as interesting as the solution to the murders, which doesn't come easily. At first, they’d like to be done with each other and go their separate ways. But as they work together, their mutual respect rises and—alas—the tension between them fades almost completely. The pair will make a great series duo, especially if a bit of that initial tension between them returns. And Baldacci shouldn’t give Decker a pass on his tortured memories, because readers enjoy suffering heroes. It's not enough that his near-perfect recall helps him in his job.Fascinating main characters and a clever plot add up to an exciting read.
Pub Date: Oct. 11, 2022
Page Count: 448
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Review Posted Online: Sept. 13, 2022
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2022
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