A grim examination of the effects of war on those who would give anything not to be waging it.

THE FIRST STONE

No one is sinless enough to cast the proverbial stone—but in this freighted, violence-punctuated novel by Danish journalist Jensen (We, the Drowned, 2011, etc.), the sins mount page by page.

Why are Westerners, including a detachment of Danish soldiers, in Afghanistan, especially so long after bin Laden has been done away with? Well, says a tough-as-nails commander named Schrøder, “We believe in free will, don’t we? That’s why you’re here. That’s why I’m here. And that’s why the Americans are here. To force the Afghans to recognize the existence of free will.” That observation comes toward the end of a long, bloody tale that would do Søren Kierkegaard proud—if, that is, Kierkegaard had been a novelist. Jensen depicts a group of one-foot-in-the-grave fighters, men and women who learn in the decidedly situational arena of Afghanistan that things are never as they seem: The American mercenaries whom they fight alongside have loyalty only to their wallets, a predilection that soon enough infects members of the Danish contingent, who are quick to abandon their philosophical interests in the quest for dollars. “Are you working for the Taliban?” a senior officer asks Schrøder, who answers, “Good question….I work for myself. I take advantage of the chances I get. Today’s friends are tomorrow’s enemies.” Indeed, about the only people to be trusted in Jensen’s twist-full story are the Taliban fighters arrayed against the Americans, Danes, and Brits who populate it: They, at least, have moral clarity and a sense of purpose, as opposed to Schrøder, who had worked in civilian life as a designer of video games in which “skinhead assassins" unleashed all sorts of mayhem—good training, as it happens, for the ugliness to come. Jensen is unflinching in describing that mayhem as it figures in the real world of his novel, from rape and torture to one particularly brutal scene in which flayed bodies line a road like so many victims on the road to Golgotha.

A grim examination of the effects of war on those who would give anything not to be waging it.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5420-4439-4

Page Count: 588

Publisher: Amazon Crossing

Review Posted Online: July 6, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

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NORMAL PEOPLE

A young Irish couple gets together, splits up, gets together, splits up—sorry, can't tell you how it ends!

Irish writer Rooney has made a trans-Atlantic splash since publishing her first novel, Conversations With Friends, in 2017. Her second has already won the Costa Novel Award, among other honors, since it was published in Ireland and Britain last year. In outline it's a simple story, but Rooney tells it with bravura intelligence, wit, and delicacy. Connell Waldron and Marianne Sheridan are classmates in the small Irish town of Carricklea, where his mother works for her family as a cleaner. It's 2011, after the financial crisis, which hovers around the edges of the book like a ghost. Connell is popular in school, good at soccer, and nice; Marianne is strange and friendless. They're the smartest kids in their class, and they forge an intimacy when Connell picks his mother up from Marianne's house. Soon they're having sex, but Connell doesn't want anyone to know and Marianne doesn't mind; either she really doesn't care, or it's all she thinks she deserves. Or both. Though one time when she's forced into a social situation with some of their classmates, she briefly fantasizes about what would happen if she revealed their connection: "How much terrifying and bewildering status would accrue to her in this one moment, how destabilising it would be, how destructive." When they both move to Dublin for Trinity College, their positions are swapped: Marianne now seems electric and in-demand while Connell feels adrift in this unfamiliar environment. Rooney's genius lies in her ability to track her characters' subtle shifts in power, both within themselves and in relation to each other, and the ways they do and don't know each other; they both feel most like themselves when they're together, but they still have disastrous failures of communication. "Sorry about last night," Marianne says to Connell in February 2012. Then Rooney elaborates: "She tries to pronounce this in a way that communicates several things: apology, painful embarrassment, some additional pained embarrassment that serves to ironise and dilute the painful kind, a sense that she knows she will be forgiven or is already, a desire not to 'make a big deal.' " Then: "Forget about it, he says." Rooney precisely articulates everything that's going on below the surface; there's humor and insight here as well as the pleasure of getting to know two prickly, complicated people as they try to figure out who they are and who they want to become.

Absolutely enthralling. Read it.

Pub Date: April 16, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-984-82217-8

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Hogarth

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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