An engaging black comedy set in the greedy mid-1990s.

Bank of The Dragon: The Tale of a Chinatown Banker

In this darkly comic debut novel, an incompetent law-school graduate gets in over his head as counsel to a bank in Houston’s Chinatown.

“I have no idea what I’m doing here,” whispers Lazaro Mendoza to an elderly Chinese man at his new job. It’s something of a theme for Lazaro, who’s clueless, lazy and prone to petty theft and drunkenness. He graduated as an average student from a third-rate law school in 1996, and as he awaits the results of his bar exam, he tries to fill the position of in-house legal counsel to the Cosmopolitan Bank of the Far East. The name may sound exotic, but the bank is housed in a dismal strip mall in Houston’s Chinatown, where Lazaro has to fight grocery shoppers for parking spaces. From his office window, he can see the sparkling, magnificent Enrico Tower, where his hated rival, Edmundo Vicente, now works. In school, both were members of the Latino Law Students Association; Lazaro joined just to get other students’ course outlines. (Lazaro’s idea of a great lawyer comes from a TV show called San Francisco Law.) Enrico, an energy company with dubious business practices, bears an obvious resemblance to Enron; while showing off to Lazaro during a visit, Edmundo blithely darkens a third of California. Lazaro, meanwhile, is tasked with foreclosing on families in poverty. It eventually leads him to a difficult choice, which produces ambiguous results. The flawed and culpable Lazaro may be a difficult character for readers to spend time with, as his life is one long anxiety dream. In his unprepared desperation, he bears some resemblance to the hero of Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim (1954), a much funnier and sunnier novel. The comedy gets very dark indeed, but it’s not quite outrageous or bitingly satirical enough to stand with the best of the genre, such as Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 (1961) or Nathanael West’s The Day of the Locust (1939). However, Gunn does get off some pointed zingers and creates some outlandish characters, including a hunchbacked stripper, a madam/pet-shop owner, and a feng shui master, that round out the colorful cast and effectively add to the comic tone.

An engaging black comedy set in the greedy mid-1990s.

Pub Date: Feb. 12, 2013

ISBN: 978-1475016383

Page Count: 232

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2013

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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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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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