An appealing tale of conspiracy and murder, occasionally interrupted by excessive particulars.

VERITAS: The Pharmacological Endgame

THE END OF THE OBESITY EPIDEMIC

Australian scientists develop of a vaccine to eradicate obesity, which ignites a swift and ultimately lethal response from an international pharmaceutical organization in Boccaletti’s (Big, Fat American Lion Book, 2016) thriller.

Biologist and medical researcher Dr. Alex Bauman is researching obesity at a university in Brisbane, Australia, along with Drs. Steve Mallony and Nigel McTaggart. Alex, at nearly 300 pounds, is himself obese, and he does technical diving training as exercise. During one dive, he collects a finger coral that apparently regulates fat in its cells as a defense against pollution and seasonally hot water temperatures. The scientists extract enzymes from the coral back at the lab and soon create a potential obesity vaccine. Alex subsequently agrees to be a guinea pig, and Steve and Nigel monitor him for 10 days following an injection. He not only loses 125 pounds, but also has a newfound “strong desire” to eat metabolism-boosting foods. After the group’s presentation to the university’s supervisory board, one board member calls Nero Poline, the CEO of the Stiffton Drug Corporation in the United States. Stiffton thrives by profiting from drugs for weight-related illnesses. Poline has powerful friends, including corrupt U.S. senator and presidential hopeful Marc Thwane, and belongs to global pharma organization ZEUS. Getting hold of the vaccine’s formula is one thing, but ZEUS’ board also deems it best to commission a retired SEAL team to kill Alex and the others. Boccaletti’s straightforward prose is intelligent and informative; he takes the topic of obesity seriously and organically moves the story on to other issues, such as climate change and alternative energy. However, the comprehensive details sometimes stall the narrative. A lengthy presentation, for example, breaks down obesity percentages by country and lists additional ailments that obesity can cause; Qatar bank owner Sharif Al-Khalifa appears as a potential ally for assassin-dodging Alex, but the specifics of his proposal for an environmentally friendly “smart city” do little to advance the plot. However, Alex’s global trek gives the story flavor with its ever-changing locales, including Russia and Dubai, while the assassins’ various murder attempts (using poisons from exotic animals, among other means) are morbidly entertaining.

An appealing tale of conspiracy and murder, occasionally interrupted by excessive particulars.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5328-6794-1

Page Count: 478

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2016

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

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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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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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