STRAIGHT UP

A MURDER ON THE ROCKS MYSTERY

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

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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DEVOLUTION

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

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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

HOLLY

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023

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