Formulaic but reasonably fun provided you have no expectations concerning probability or literary quality.

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THE PRESIDENT IS MISSING

It’s textbook synergy, as the marketers say: A media-savvy ex-president teams up with the ringmaster of mass-produced pop fiction to churn out a by-the-numbers thriller.

It’s a telling sign of the times that the very first bit of text in this scrappy potboiler by Clinton (Back to Work: Why We Need Smart Government for a Strong Economy, 2011, etc.) and Patterson (NYPD Red, 2012, etc.) is a shoutout to the lawyer who brought them together “and occasionally cracked the whip.” That said, Clinton lifts generous hunks of his own presidential biography in this yarn celebrating the gnarly President Jonathan Lincoln Duncan (think William Jefferson Clinton, natch), who is being assailed on every side. There are Islamic terrorists, but worse, the Congressional committees grilling him from Page 1 on, questioning Benghazi-like episodes in which the Sons of Jihad have been mowing down innocent Americans. Then there’s the “tall, leggy, busty” assassin who’s coming for the Prez without rancor but with clinical certainty. It doesn’t help that Duncan’s veep—“a parasite, living off her host”—may be plotting to take over, nor that the media is given to leaking that he intends “to try to cut a deal with the House Speaker to spare me impeachment if I agree to a single term in office.” And did we mention the killer computer virus that’s about to turn the switch on the information age? What’s a beleaguered politico to do when the klieg lights are on and the bullets are flying? Hunker down and hit the mattresses—but then go all Jack Ryan or maybe even all Dubya (“In the coming days…we will find out who are America’s friends and who are America’s enemies. Nobody will want to be an enemy”), recruit a Lisbeth Salander or two, line up NATO pals and maybe even the Russkis, and go mano a mano with the assembled bad guys, foreign and domestic.

Formulaic but reasonably fun provided you have no expectations concerning probability or literary quality.

Pub Date: June 4, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-41269-8

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Little, Brown and Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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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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