A messy but entertaining crime caper.

THE LICK

In this debut novel, the appearance of old enemies throws a master thief’s heist into jeopardy.

The unusually named Lesson Day runs a successful crew of thieves. It’s mostly a family affair, including his father, Tha Pope; his brother, Learn; and a couple of trusted associates. They’ve pulled off some big jobs in the past, and Lesson has already earned enough money to move his family into a ritzy suburb outside of Detroit. Now, Lesson has his sights on a haul of truly epic proportions: robbing Walmart on Cyber Monday, right at the end of the busiest shopping weekend of the year. Lesson figures that if they do it right, he and his team can walk away with almost $5 million in cash. Such a score would be enough for the crew to leave the high-stakes world of heists behind. Lesson himself has plans for investing in real estate in Detroit’s revitalized downtown. He has mapped out the whole lick down to the last detail: security systems, armored trucks, time windows. But as Tha Pope warns Lesson, no lick ever goes just as planned. While Lesson and the crew are in mid heist, a giant wrench is thrown into the works when two old foes—Savage Keith and Juman—return to town. They’ve been in exile in Ohio ever since they tried to murder Lesson years ago, but they’ve come home to kidnap the thief’s mother, Rocci, and his wife, Ashanti. Can Lesson pull off the heist, save his family, and keep everyone out of jail? It may prove too tall an order for even him. “You wanna start upgrading,” his father warned him before the heist. “But remember this, Lesson, when you upgrade, no matter if you win or lose, you take the team up with you, or down with you.”

In this series opener, Ali creates a vibrant and surprisingly believable world, full of big personalities and lively exchanges of dialogue. The prose is often on the sloppy side, but the author manages to build tension when he needs to: “There was panic in Tha Pope’s voice. Tha Pope was trying to get Lesson’s attention, but Lesson was silent. He saw the truck still sitting in front of the Wal-Mart, but Lesson, Jameer, and Goob were out of his line of sight, and he didn’t have time to maneuver the drone into a better position. He also didn’t want the Wal-Mart security team to see the drone and become suspicious.” There’s a recursive quality to the writing, and Ali manages to repeat nearly every piece of information a few more times than is necessary. Even so, the book is highly readable, leaning into pulpy archetypes and cinematic flourishes to keep things fun. Lesson is a compelling protagonist even when he is doing and saying unfortunate things, and readers will be happy to follow along and see just how he manages to sort it all out. The novel ends in an intriguing place, followed by sample chapters from the forthcoming sequel.

A messy but entertaining crime caper.

Pub Date: Sept. 15, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73575-090-3

Page Count: 383

Publisher: Master Plan Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2020

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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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THE SANATORIUM

A hotel built on the grounds of a sanatorium has more dead bodies than paying guests.

A police detective on sabbatical after flubbing a case, Elin Warner travels with her boyfriend, Will, to Le Sommet, a remote, glass-walled, five-star hotel in the Swiss Alps, at the invitation of her estranged brother, Isaac. Isaac is throwing a party to celebrate his engagement to Laure, assistant manager at the hotel, which has been the focus of local controversy due to its shadowy history. Elin's creepy feelings about the trip are quickly confirmed as a storm cuts off access to the mountain, a receptionist is kidnapped, a dead body is found in the snow, and Laure disappears. As overloaded, grisly, and ultimately silly as Pearse's locked-room debut may be, the biggest mystery is how Elin ever made it out of the police academy. As she slowly reasons her way through the unfolding situation, her deductions of even the most obvious points appear in italics—"That means Laure has another phone." "This…it isn't an accident. She's been killed. This is murder"—as do what seem to be the protagonist’s questions to herself about how to move things along. "So where could they have gone?" "So what are my next steps going to be?" "She examines the glass balustrade in front of her. Can I get over it?" What Elin can't get over is a tragedy in her childhood for which she holds her brother responsible; it comes up every few pages until being resolved with a not-too-believable twist that may or may not be retwisted in a mystifying epilogue. Fortunately for Elin, she does have a few insider tricks up her sleeve. "She knows that there is an app called Find My iPhone...it would show the last location where it had a signal." Wait. Why are you laughing? This is a thriller!

Oh, dear.

Pub Date: Feb. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-59-329667-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Pamela Dorman/Viking

Review Posted Online: today

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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