A bleak family story that’s both unnerving and enthralling.

BLACK RIVER LANTERN

Dark, sinister forces surround a seasonal carnival and its disturbing owner in this debut supernatural novel.

The Marivicos Summerlong Carnivalé Festival is a popular event in the American city of Kayjigville. Papa Marivicos took over the carnival from his father, but his son, Eddie, is less enthusiastic regarding the family business. In fact, a little over two years ago, Eddie ran away, met a woman, and got married only for Papa to track him down and bring him back. But since returning, Eddie has apparently developed telepathy. Displaying his gift at the carnival attracts large crowds, though the overload of people’s thoughts tends to make him physically ill. Eddie finds solace in Lexi, who works at a local brothel and whose thoughts, for some reason, he mercifully can’t hear. Elsewhere in Kayjigville, Papa may have competition. Businesswoman Clara Guadali is certain the riverboat Commodora will draw the carnival’s patrons. But Papa is more formidable and diabolical than Clara anticipates, thanks largely to a particular book he possesses. Inside the tome are “indescribable words” that, when written in a “blood-ink inscription,” give Papa specific abilities that may surpass Eddie’s. These can be lethal powers when there’s a threat like Clara, who, in addition to taking some of his business, attempts to blackmail Papa with something she believes to be incriminating. Meanwhile, a gangster’s son tries using Eddie’s gift for his own selfish benefit. As these people’s acts ultimately jeopardize the Marivicos family, Papa’s response is potent and leaves many bodies in its wake.

Grass’ novel is mostly grim. Papa, for example, is an appalling man, with or without potential magic, and Eddie’s efforts to drown out others’ thoughts include drinking, which isn’t always effective. But parts of the book alleviate this somber tone, such as Eddie’s understated and genuinely appealing romance with Lexi. And Eddie’s carnival pal Abakoum provides some humor—his delightful ramblings showcase a refreshing bluntness. The author highlights the story with a discernible theme of fatherhood. This is bolstered by the inclusion of Dr. Chain (pronounced “Kha-Yeen”), whose simple trip to the carnival finds him embroiled with the Marivicoses. Since Dr. Chain wants children (which he and his wife are unable to have), he essentially becomes a surrogate parent to Eddie, whose father is relentlessly vicious and cruel. As the tale progresses, it elucidates Papa and Eddie’s history, which involves that enigmatic book and strained familial ties. The narrative also turns increasingly violent, and later scenes entail viscera, severed limbs, and accompanying deaths. Throughout the tale, Grass’ prose displays a sharp, confident voice flavored with indelible metaphors. Eddie, experiencing a new power, “felt as though fingers ran along the backs of his eyes, fingers laced with gunpowder—igniting and burning the insides of his orbits, flaring in excruciating bursts.” Despite illuminating moments, the narrative retains a fair amount of ambiguity, allowing for an ending that, while definitive, is open to interpretation.

A bleak family story that’s both unnerving and enthralling. (acknowledgements, author bio)

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73588-850-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dickinson Publishing Group

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2020

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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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Top-drawer crime fiction. The authors are tough on the hero, but the hero is tough.

THE RED BOOK

Patterson and Ellis put their characters through hell in this hard-edged second installment of their Black Book series after The Black Book (2017).

A young girl is one of four people gunned down in a “very, very bad” K-Town drive-by shooting in Chicago. Police are under intense political pressure to solve it, so Detective Billy Harney is assigned to the Special Operations Section to put the brakes on the gang violence on the West Side. His new partner is Detective Carla Griffin, whom colleagues describe as “sober as an undertaker” and “as fun as a case of hemorrhoids.” And she looks like the last thing he needs, a pill popper. (But is she?) Department muckety-mucks want Harney to fail, and Griffin is supposed to spy on him. The poor guy already has a hell of a backstory: His daughter died and his wife committed suicide (or did she?) four years earlier, he’s been shot in the head, charged with murder (and exonerated), and helped put his own father in prison. (Nothing like a tormented hero!) Now the deaths still haunt him while he and Griffin begin to suspect they’re not looking at a simple turf war starring the Imperial Gangster Nation. Meanwhile, the captain in Internal Affairs is deep in the pocket of some bad guys who run an international human trafficking ring, and he loathes Harney. The protagonist is lucky to have Patti, his sister and fellow detective, as his one reliable friend who lets him know he’s being set up. The authors do masterful work creating flawed characters to root for or against, and they certainly pile up the troubles for Billy Harney. Abundant nasty twists will hold readers’ rapt attention in this dark, violent, and fast-moving thriller.

Top-drawer crime fiction. The authors are tough on the hero, but the hero is tough.

Pub Date: March 29, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-316-49940-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Dec. 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2021

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