A host of complex, well-drawn characters and a strong story make up for a slight tendency to overdo the magic realism in a...

THE RIVER KING

Hoffman, a gifted writer who's been treading water lately (Local Girls, 1997, etc.), is in much better form with this compelling portrait of class tensions and personal longings in the small-town Massachusetts.

Since 1858, the Haddan School has educated the children of the wealthy, who barely notice the village residents. More than 50 years after local girl Annie Howe, unhappily married to the school’s womanizing headmaster, hung herself from the rafters of the girls’ dormitory, town-gown fraternizing still seems a bad idea. Three new arrivals, though, quickly upset the smug status quo. Carlin Leander, transported from working-class Florida on a swimming scholarship, catches the fancy of handsome Harry McKenna, nasty top dog among the popular students. Betsy Chase, hired as photography instructor because she’s engaged to ambitious history teacher Eric Herman, finds herself attracted to Abe Grey, a town cop with a checkered past. And Gus Pierce, a brilliant but troubled new student, defies the vicious hazing (led by Harry) to which the faculty turns a blind eye. When Gus’s body is discovered in the river, everyone wants to sweep the matter under the rug. But Abe needs to honor the legacy of his upright grandfather, purge his bitter knowledge of the town’s current corruption, and redeem the sorrow of his brother’s long-ago suicide, as well as Annie Howe’s. He persists, and some measure of justice is meted out to the guilty, though there’s plenty of suffering for the innocent as well. Hoffman balances a biting depiction of Haddan’s snobbery and moral failures with her usual breathtakingly beautiful evocations of the natural world (laid on a little thick here). Her appealing protagonists find happiness, and a series of supernatural events suggest the existence of a higher order that will not allow evil to prevail . . . entirely.

A host of complex, well-drawn characters and a strong story make up for a slight tendency to overdo the magic realism in a novel sure to please Hoffman’s many fans.

Pub Date: July 17, 2000

ISBN: 0-399-14599-0

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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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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