GOLDEN STATE

For those who like their dystopias with a dash of humor. No lie.

Tell a fib, a whopper, a confabulation in California, and, promises Winters (The Last Policeman, 2013, etc.), you’ll wind up in a heap of trouble.

“Any assault on reality, any infusion of falsehood in the air can’t be countenanced, no matter the source.” Lying weakens trust, which damages society. It also spoils one’s breakfast. Laszlo Ratesic is just tucking into his chicken and waffles as Winters’ yarn opens, but then he, a noted “speculator” in the employ of the Speculative Service, happens to catch the tail end of a prevarication. “Somebody’s telling lies in here,” he pronounces, “and it’s making it hard to eat.” It’s Ratesic’s special skill, shared by only a few, to be able to ferret out lies as they’re being hatched, in this case by a kid who’s been stealing his mom’s pills and takes it on the lam, to Ratesic’s joy, since “it’s the part I like: pure law enforcement, my feet in the boots and the boots on the ground, me breathing heavy and charging after a liar.“ Alas, even in the independent nation called Golden State, there are those who would adorn and adjust the truth, even when it comes close to Ratesic—say, in the matter of the deceased brother for whom he continues to mourn. And are things really all that horrific out in the country that lies beyond the Shangri-La of free California, where the vaunted “Objectively So” may differ in kind and degree? Well, the mind plays tricks, and so does the tongue, and Ratesic finds himself caught up in a web that even he couldn’t foresee. In some details, Winters’ story might have fallen out of a forgotten file drawer at Philip K. Dick’s pad, though Winters takes a less bleak view of humankind than the master of bad-vibes future California; though somewhat less surprisingly inventive than the author’s Underground Airlines (2016), it’s still a skillful and swift-moving concoction.

For those who like their dystopias with a dash of humor. No lie.

Pub Date: Jan. 22, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-316-50541-3

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Oct. 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2018

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DEVOLUTION

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

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  • New York Times Bestseller

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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