Heightened storytelling and characterization uplift a familiar spies-chase-superpowered-kid premise.

HOLLIS WHITTAKER

In this debut novel, a boy finds an ancient medallion that elevates his scientific knowledge to superhuman level—which makes him a quarry for ruthless American government agents.

In Shanahan’s SF thriller, the title character is a 10-year-old Virginia schoolboy who finds a miraculous artifact—actually an ancient Navajo medallion called the “Nílch’I”—in a stream bed. A prologue has informed readers that the object was stolen from the United States government at the end of World War II by a Rita Hayworth–lookalike, secretary Eleanor Cole, who was brutally gunned down during an escape attempt. But in 2020, the recovered artifact amps up Hollis Whittaker’s knowledge of math and science considerably—astronomically, in fact. When Hollis remaps the whole solar system and proves the long-theorized existence of a 10th planet beyond Pluto, the fifth grader becomes famous overnight, though all the slightly overweight boy can say about the matter is that it’s “cool.” When an antiques dealer posts an image of the medallion online for enthusiasts, she is summarily murdered. Hollis soon becomes the object of a nationwide hunt, along with his more outgoing best friend, Kirby Cooper-Quinn, and their mysterious but rather maladroit savior, a young Native American woman from New Mexico out of her element. Action periodically returns to the 1945 backstory of Eleanor and her #MeToo–type dealings with sleazy military brass (World War II Americans don’t exactly earn their “Greatest Generation” stripes here). Shanahan’s prose is on target throughout, carrying the pursuit-driven story forward as smooth as a bullet’s trajectory, although the mystique of the book’s MacGuffin medallion gets traded in for an explanation that is one of SF’s hoariest clichés. The denouement depends on a revelation of hitherto unknown superpowers that may signal a sequel. The voices of the young characters are especially convincing, with a nice touch that even with his augmented IQ, Hollis remains a firmly ordinary, unprepossessing boy whose reaction to most everything is pretty much “cool.” Even with the violence and swearing, this tale would still rate as YA material (pretty cool stuff, at that), albeit for a precociously cynical adolescent readership with no trust in government authorities except as killers.

Heightened storytelling and characterization uplift a familiar spies-chase-superpowered-kid premise. (author bio)

Pub Date: June 5, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-64599-046-8

Page Count: 266

Publisher: Encircle Publications, LLC

Review Posted Online: June 18, 2020

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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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Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

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LATER

Horrormeister King follows a boy’s journey from childhood to adolescence among the dead—and their even creepier living counterparts.

Jamie Conklin sees dead people. Not for very long—they fade away after a week or so—but during that time he can talk to them, ask them questions, and compel them to answer truthfully. His uncanny gift at first seems utterly unrelated to his mother Tia’s work as a literary agent, but the links become disturbingly clear when her star client, Regis Thomas, dies shortly after starting work on the newest entry in his bestselling Roanoke Saga, and Tia and her lover, NYPD Detective Liz Dutton, drive Jamie out to Cobblestone Cottage to encourage the late author to dictate an outline of his latest page-turner so that Tia, who’s fallen on hard times, can write it in his name instead of returning his advance and her cut. Now that she’s seen what Jamie can do, Liz takes it on herself to arrange an interview in which Jamie will ask Kenneth Therriault, a serial bomber who’s just killed himself, where he’s stowed his latest explosive device before it can explode posthumously. His post-mortem encounter with Therriault exacts a high price on Jamie, who now finds himself more haunted than ever, though he never gives up on the everyday experiences in which King roots all his nightmares.

Crave chills and thrills but don’t have time for a King epic? This will do the job before bedtime. Not that you’ll sleep.

Pub Date: March 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-7890-9649-1

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Hard Case Crime

Review Posted Online: Dec. 26, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2021

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