This fanciful novel offers a unique, if leisurely paced, take on the cash-and-dash potboiler.

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The Big Black Bag

A debut crime novel examines a cutthroat lawyer and a strange journey following his death.

Joe de Killer is a lawyer best described as fastidious and foul-tempered. Originally from Hoboken, New Jersey, Joe hasn’t risen in his profession by being nice. Quick to criticize and fire any subordinate that fails to please him, he keeps things in his personal and professional lives well under control. Enter into the equation a young woman with “big periwinkle blue eyes” named Ingrid. As Joe’s girlfriend, Ingrid enjoys Caribbean vacations and luxury goods. But if she gains a few pounds and spoils her bikini figure, she can easily suffer Joe’s wrath and ultimately be replaced “with something that was more to his level of satisfaction.” When a business emergency calls the couple back from a Bahamas getaway, Ingrid knows something must be amiss. When she discovers a big black bag in the couple’s home, her suspicions are confirmed. Should she drug Joe with a sleeping pill, take the bag, and run off with a criminal lawyer friend of his? Obviously. While Ingrid’s plans do not unfold exactly the way she envisioned, Joe eventually dies, leaving the fate of the bag open to whomever desires it the most. While things could certainly wind down here, Sherman moves the story back to the Bahamas, where it is pushed into supernatural territory. Though it takes quite a few pages for the adventure to enter this realm, once the background is set, the strangeness can begin. Dialogue can hinder tension, as when characters announce exactly what they are going to do (one guy remarks that he and his companions should “register at the desk and go up to our rooms” upon entering a hotel). What keeps the narrative lively is the pressing issue of who, if anyone, will wind up with the black bag, and just what sort of oddities those involved will encounter next.

This fanciful novel offers a unique, if leisurely paced, take on the cash-and-dash potboiler.

Pub Date: July 16, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5246-1868-1

Page Count: 198

Publisher: AuthorHouse

Review Posted Online: Aug. 16, 2016

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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