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

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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: AmazonCrossing

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.

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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