Gimmickry, supernatural and otherwise, blunts what could have been an incisive inquiry into the mysteries and frustrations...

HER FEARFUL SYMMETRY

Twin sisters inherit a London flat, and a bundle of baggage, from their mother’s long-estranged twin.

Elspeth has expired at 44 of cancer, leaving her younger lover and neighbor Robert bereft and obsessed with her memory. Robert is entrusted with her diaries and named executor of her will, which bequeaths her flat and substantial cash reserves to her 20-year-old twin nieces, Julia and Valentina. Elspeth’s twin sister Edie and her husband Jack, a Chicago banker, receive nothing and are expressly forbidden to visit the flat. Presumably, Elspeth’s hostility stems from the fact that, 20 years before, Edie had eloped with Jack, then Elspeth’s fiancé, and fled with him to Chicago. When the girls move to London, their own sibling rivalry escalates. Julia dominates minutes-younger Valentina, forcing her to share a life of indolence rather than pursue her ambition to be a fashion designer. Robert, a perennial doctorate candidate writing his thesis on the historic 19th-century cemetery Highgate, is intimately familiar with all manner of Victorian morbidity, including the extreme measures taken to avoid being buried alive. Robert introduces the twins to the all-volunteer staff of Highgate, where many luminaries, including Karl Marx and George Eliot, are buried. Valentina is drawn to Robert, who finds her resemblance to Elspeth uncanny, unnerving and ultimately irresistible. Julia befriends upstairs neighbor Martin, an obsessive-compulsive agoraphobe whose wife, finally fed up with his draconian rituals, has just left him. Meanwhile, Elspeth has returned to her former flat, training her ghostly self to communicate with the occupants. Only Valentina can see her, and she enlists her aunt’s aid in getting free of Julia. The manner in which Elspeth accomplishes Valentina’s liberation, and the mind-boggling double cross revealed in the diaries, are breathtakingly far-fetched.

Gimmickry, supernatural and otherwise, blunts what could have been an incisive inquiry into the mysteries and frustrations of too-close kinship from the talented Niffenegger (The Time Traveler’s Wife, 2003, etc.).

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2009

ISBN: 978-1-4391-6539-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2009

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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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Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

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THE SOUTHERN BOOK CLUB'S GUIDE TO SLAYING VAMPIRES

Things are about to get bloody for a group of Charleston housewives.

In 1988, the scariest thing in former nurse Patricia Campbell’s life is showing up to book club, since she hasn’t read the book. It’s hard to get any reading done between raising two kids, Blue and Korey, picking up after her husband, Carter, a psychiatrist, and taking care of her live-in mother-in-law, Miss Mary, who seems to have dementia. It doesn’t help that the books chosen by the Literary Guild of Mt. Pleasant are just plain boring. But when fellow book-club member Kitty gives Patricia a gloriously trashy true-crime novel, Patricia is instantly hooked, and soon she’s attending a very different kind of book club with Kitty and her friends Grace, Slick, and Maryellen. She has a full plate at home, but Patricia values her new friendships and still longs for a bit of excitement. When James Harris moves in down the street, the women are intrigued. Who is this handsome night owl, and why does Miss Mary insist that she knows him? A series of horrific events stretches Patricia’s nerves and her Southern civility to the breaking point. (A skin-crawling scene involving a horde of rats is a standout.) She just knows James is up to no good, but getting anyone to believe her is a Sisyphean feat. After all, she’s just a housewife. Hendrix juxtaposes the hypnotic mundanity of suburbia (which has a few dark underpinnings of its own) against an insidious evil that has taken root in Patricia’s insular neighborhood. It’s gratifying to see her grow from someone who apologizes for apologizing to a fiercely brave woman determined to do the right thing—hopefully with the help of her friends. Hendrix (We Sold Our Souls, 2018, etc.) cleverly sprinkles in nods to well-established vampire lore, and the fact that he’s a master at conjuring heady 1990s nostalgia is just the icing on what is his best book yet.

Fans of smart horror will sink their teeth into this one.

Pub Date: April 7, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-68369-143-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Quirk Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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