Mawkish prose and blatantly contrived plot developments make this a disappointing debut.

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THE THINGS THAT KEEP US HERE

A pandemic, a catastrophic snowstorm, a massive power outage and social breakdown play out in the microcosm of a Columbus, Ohio, suburb.

Finally, the other viral shoe has dropped: an influenza strain that, like the 1918 flu, combines human, avian and porcine antigens to deadly effect. H5N1, which first manifests in mass die-offs of migrating fowl, is so virulent that it threatens to wipe out 50 percent of humanity. University research veterinarian Peter Brooks and his fetching Egyptian grad assistant Shazia are among the scientists playing a familiar losing game of vaccine catch-up when Ohio is quarantined and everyone is ordered to go into isolation at home with their families. But Peter lives apart from wife Ann and their two daughters; the marriage never recovered from their infant son’s unexplained crib death a decade earlier. Just after Thanksgiving, a blizzard strikes, followed by blackout. Fighting supermarket crowds, Ann hoards enough food to last weeks. Peter and Shazia move in, much to Ann’s discomfiture, although she never confronts Peter about his suspected affair, not even when Shazia starts showing signs of pregnancy. At first it seems their area will be spared. Then a neighbor’s child dies. Information filters through: The hospital is overloaded, the morgue has shut down and the local ice rink is being used to store bodies. The social fabric is shredding. Quarantine and paranoia preclude cooperation outside family boundaries, and there’s no Internet or cell-phone service. (Tellingly, the landline is the last to fail.) Ann’s best friend Libby, last seen trying to eject husband Smith from her SUV, shows up weeks later on the Brooks’ doorstep, coughing ominously and begging the family to take her six-month-old baby. Newcomer Buckley pulls many punches, downplaying in particular the chaos that could ensue following a total infrastructure collapse, and sets up the novel’s surprise final twists by deliberately misleading the reader.

Mawkish prose and blatantly contrived plot developments make this a disappointing debut.

Pub Date: Feb. 9, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-440-24509-4

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Delacorte

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2010

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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