Sharp writing and an unconventional plot make for a darkly enjoyable read.



A retired rock star finds work in a cemetery in this morosely intriguing novel by Castrodale (Marion Hatley, 2017).

Ben Dirjery is approaching his 50th birthday, the age at which both his father and grandfather dropped dead. He started jogging and is considering a green burial; after his death, mushrooms would break down his body naturally and make “some really nice compost.” Ben’s morbid nature often perplexes Cole, his daughter, yet it perhaps shouldn’t because her dad is a gravedigger at Bolster Hill Cemetery. Ben used to be a guitarist in an emerging rock band, The Vagrants, performing under what would become an appropriate pseudonym, Nick Graves. He traded the band for fatherhood and a steady job and now tends the cemetery where Vince Resklar, the lead singer of his band, is interred. Unrest comes to Bolster Hill when a court order requires the exhumation of the body of an unknown vagrant who was buried outside the cemetery’s gates long ago. Ben becomes caught between his contractual obligations and the outcry of the protesters who vehemently campaign for the grave to be left untouched. This novel plays upon the sense of unease associated with cemeteries. Much of the novel is set around the gravestones and follows Ben watering and weeding the grounds or observing cemetery mushrooms. Castrodale possesses the uncanny power of transforming this customarily uncomfortable space into somewhere oddly inviting. Her tender, detailed descriptions lend a magicality to the cemetery, like when Peg, one of the protesters, stumbles across bioluminescent fungi: “Crouching at the base of the tree, an old birch, she discovered that the light was coming from a clump of mushrooms in their umbrella-ish prime. They’d sprouted from one of the birch’s fallen branches....What a strange place this is, Peg thought. What a strange and wonderful place.” In the end, these startlingly incongruous parts—graveyards, guitars, and mushrooms—come together in satisfying and unexpected ways.

Sharp writing and an unconventional plot make for a darkly enjoyable read.

Pub Date: Sept. 18, 2018


Page Count: 292

Publisher: Garland Press

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2018

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 11

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • 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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

Did you like this book?

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...


Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

Did you like this book?