A relatable hero and genuine suspense make up for the less-than-credible plot points.

STRAIGHT UP

A MURDER ON THE ROCKS MYSTERY

Troubles multiply for a bar owner stalked by a serial killer in this mystery.

Spirited New York City bar owner Jude Dillane returns in this third outing of Stoler’s Murder on the Rocksseries. Also back: sadistic murderer Art Bevins, the New Year’s Eve Serial Killer, still at large after escaping capture in Last Call(2020)and more determined than ever to add Jude to his victim list. As if that’s not enough, Jude may lose her beloved bar, The Corner Lounge, because her partner and chef, Pete Angel, can’t take any more mayhem, and one of her friends appears to be keeping criminal company. In addition, there’s something suspicious about glamorous Dolores Castel, now living in the killer’s former apartment in Jude’s building and making a play for the protagonist’s close friend Sully, the complex’s owner. At least Jude’s boyfriend, Eric Ramirez, has returned after their breakup, occasioned by her inability to stay out of danger and leave investigating to the authorities. (Fans of the series likely identified with Eric’s frustration; Jude’s concern that her actions put others in peril and upended personal relationships seemed shallow at best.) The author has somewhat softened that dynamic in this installment, though Jude dismisses the possible consequences if the killer learns of her visit to a key figure in the case, an older stage director. She also eludes one of her FBI bodyguards to do some independent sleuthing, fully aware that the agent could lose his job if her action is discovered. But with her business, her friends’ well-being, and her life on the line, Jude’s determination to find her own answers—despite a few of her huffy but significant “I’ll do it myself” lapses—is balanced by a more realistic, if grudging, awareness that a person who is being stalked by a sadistic killer may very well need a couple of FBI agents on hand as protection. She finally decides that keeping law enforcement in the loop is a good idea. Stoler adds a high level of suspense by periodically shifting from Jude’s first-person narration to Dolores’ third-person point of view, although the twist within a twist involving this femme fatale is quite a stretch.

A relatable hero and genuine suspense make up for the less-than-credible plot points.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2021

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Level Best Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 6, 2021

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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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An unevenly paced thriller that fails to match its predecessor’s level of intensity.

THE FAMILY REMAINS

In this sequel to The Family Upstairs (2019), two siblings continue to deal with the fallout of their traumatic childhoods.

Lucy Lamb is living with her brother, Henry, after the two have been reunited, and she’s focused on reconnecting with her eldest daughter, Libby, and building a more stable life for her younger kids. But when Libby locates her birth father, Phin Thomsen, who lived as a teenager with Lucy and Henry—all their parents were part of a cult led by Phin’s father and died together in a suicide pact—the family begins making plans to go visit him in Botswana until word comes that Phin has taken a leave of absence from his job. After tracing Phin to Chicago, Henry leaves abruptly to go find him and cuts off all communication, prompting deep concern in Lucy, who knows of Henry’s dangerous obsession with Phin (which goes so deep that Henry has fashioned himself to look like Phin). Meanwhile, human remains have been found in the Thames and traced to the childhood home Libby inherited, which leaves all three wanted for police questioning when it is determined the victim lived with Henry, Lucy, and Libby in their childhood home and was murdered. Separately, an unrelated character named Rachel Rimmer remembers her disastrous marriage when she is contacted about her abusive husband’s murder. In this latest thriller, Jewell dives back into the psyche of Henry Lamb, one of her most unsettling characters. She attempts to weave together four narratives but takes too long to develop connections among the disparate stories (especially Rachel’s), which means the novel is weighted down with unrelated murder victims and minor characters, both of which detract from the suspense of Henry’s pursuit of Phin.

An unevenly paced thriller that fails to match its predecessor’s level of intensity.

Pub Date: Aug. 9, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-9821-7889-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 11, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2022

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