A rare combination of literary finesse and quick-paced plot—and another triumph from the versatile Phillips.

THE KING AT THE EDGE OF THE WORLD

The first novel in nine years from Phillips (The Tragedy of Arthur, 2011, etc.) is another bravura performance: a tale of espionage and theological intrigue set in Elizabethan England.

The book begins with a Turkish expedition in 1591 to England, "a far-off, sunless, primitive, sodden, heathen kingdom at the far cliffside edge of the civilized earth." One of the delegation's reluctant conscripts is Mahmoud Ezzedine, the sultan's personal physician, who leaves behind a comfortable life and a beloved wife and son. But at sojourn's end, Ezzedine—who's become friendly with a British physician/naturalist and familiar with British irony and raillery—makes a remark that, overheard, allows a conniving rival to trap him; if reported to the sultan, the jest would result in the doctor's execution. So Ezzedine is left in England as a "gift" to Elizabeth's court, and when he saves a nobleman who suffers a public seizure, he is passed along—regifted—to the epileptic. Ten years pass; Ezzedine, now "Matthew Thatcher," has adapted to his fate by converting to Christianity and by expunging—to the greatest extent possible—all memory of his homeland and former happiness. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth is dying, heirless, and the leading candidate for the throne is King James VI of Scotland. But James' bona fides as a Protestant—his parents were Catholic, as is his wife, and rumors abound of his secret papism—are in doubt, which could reignite the long sectarian bloodbath recently ended. Who better to peel the theological onion that is James, thinks the cunning spymaster Geoffrey Belloc, than the only Muslim in the empire? And so Ezzedine/Thatcher is regifted again, this time to the Scottish king. Phillips' incorporation of history—including an entertaining side plot about Elizabethan theater—shows the sure hand and psychological acuity he is known for. One is reminded of Hilary Mantel's magisterial Wolf Hall but perhaps more pointedly of Graham Greene's novels, which also often center on theology and spycraft and often feature a protagonist exiled, like Ezzedine, to some seedy outpost of foreignness and amorality.

A rare combination of literary finesse and quick-paced plot—and another triumph from the versatile Phillips.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9548-0

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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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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