A smart, somewhat passive protagonist leads a dark, measured tale set in the business world.

ASSET STRIPPERS

An asset stripper’s life becomes complicated by the murders of people linked to his family and various threats to the American company he plans to acquire in this debut thriller.

Maximilian “Maxi” de Beaulieu d’Appremont isn’t even aware of the corpse on his property until authorities arrive at his French château. The decapitated body may belong to Chris Ward, from whom Maxi had just received a cryptic note requesting his help. Ward had worked for the Beaulieu family company in Africa more than a decade ago, as had Michael Holcomb, another recent murder victim who, at the time of his demise, had Maxi’s address in his briefcase. It seems a man named Vincent Kaine has launched an inquiry into Maxi, believing he knows the location of hidden money Kaine and others collected illicitly. As this connects to Maxi’s dead Uncle Charles, he peruses his relative’s extensive diaries while looking for information on Mark Ramaloh, the man now investigating him. At the same time, Maxi is in the process of purchasing RTG Environmental Engineering Inc., an Alabama company on the verge of bankruptcy. His visit to the company in Birmingham is met with unveiled animosity from employees. They’re upset about a European buying RTGEE but may also be aware that Maxi suspects ongoing fraud within the company. Maxi befriends—and quickly falls for—whip-smart CEO assistant Linda Porter, one of the individuals who discovered the fraud. Soon sinister notes become physical intimidation, putting Maxi and Linda in danger from incensed workers or possibly someone from Charles’ past. Berger’s lengthy narrative is predominantly dialogue that’s rife with dense backstory (characters tied to Charles or Kaine) and business dealings. The tale not only succeeds in shedding light on the practice of asset stripping, but also manages to demonstrate its value. Maxi’s purchase of RTGEE, for example, will lead to job losses in Birmingham but simultaneously save the parent company and secure thousands of positions in four other countries. Corresponding business transactions are always comprehensible, courtesy of the author’s sharp but meticulous prose ensuring clarity. Maxi is a curious protagonist. He’s an intelligent businessman who realistically isn’t trained in fisticuffs; when a crowbar-brandishing employee accosts him, he’s understandably shaken. In the same vein, Maxi does very little on his own. Pertinent details on Charles’ history, Ramaloh’s background, or RTGEE workers are gathered by other characters, who relay the information to Maxi. One of those players is Linda, and the romance she shares with Maxi is convincing, effectively heightening a later scene when threats in Birmingham instigate someone’s serious injury. Despite its bulk and a bevy of characters, the story doesn’t pile on mysteries, concentrating mostly on Maxi’s predicament in America. Regardless, the concurrent plots deepen as the novel progresses, including additional murders and anonymous menacing notes. With that in mind, the final act is a bit disappointing. There’s a surprising abundance of lingering questions near the end that Maxi seems content with leaving unresolved, even if readers won’t be.

A smart, somewhat passive protagonist leads a dark, measured tale set in the business world.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 692

Publisher: Kurti Publishing

Review Posted Online: Sept. 27, 2018

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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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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