Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

MISSING IN MACHU PICCHU

A hike on the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu leads a group of Ivy League women into the crux of deceit and debauchery in Velástegui’s novel.

Taki and Koyam, street vendors in the Plaza de Armas in Cusco, Peru, overhear several ladies talking about a tour group. The two elderly locals are worried when they mention their prospective guide, Rodrigo, who’s notorious for his reputed involvement in child trafficking and hasn’t shown his face in Cusco in two years. Taki, who has psychiclike visions, and Koyam trail the group as the women trek to meet up with Rodrigo, while revenge-seeking Violette, who once accused the corrupt man of sacrificing her baby, also shadows the hikers. The novel (Traces of Bliss, 2012, etc.) brims with historical facts, including recurrent allusions to Hiram Bingham, the explorer who claimed to have discovered Machu Picchu in 1911. Some of these passages, like specifics on mallquis (mummified remains used in worship), slow the novel’s tempo a bit. Still, they serve a narrative purpose and occur less frequently in the more intense second half, when Rodrigo’s plan comes to light. The five women of the group, all with hopes of overcoming the perils of online dating, are each given memorable personalities, including the dense but resilient Tiffany, who drives home points with “duh-uh.” The evolutions of the individual women provide some of the book’s pluses—their mutual dislike of one another is indisputable, but they gradually come to friendly terms during their ordeal. Rodrigo is an intimidating bad guy, complete with minions who do his bidding and a god complex; he quite literally believes he’s Illapa, the god of thunder. The novel does have comic relief, mostly in the form of Sandra, whose accented English is phonetically rendered. She insists that others pronounce her name “Zahndrah,” and she spends much of her time not spending money and even demanding a refund when she hasn’t paid anything at all. There’s also a considerable narrative bite—some characters end up battered and bloody, and others may not make it out alive.

Fortified by vibrant characters and a tenacious plot; it packs a mean punch when readers least expect it.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-9851769-4-5

Page Count: 344

Publisher: Libros

Review Posted Online: Dec. 10, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2013

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 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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