Two-and-a-half good stories, marred by, respectively, implausibility, sentimentality, and a desire to wrap up things too...

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THE LAST MAN

Light is shed on a host of secrets buried in the pasts of two separate but casually linked families when an elderly concentration-camp survivor, now living in the Boston area, spots a man she believes is the last unaccountable figure in a group photo of Nazis she’s carried with her for decades.

Indeed, Gerta Wahljiak, the camp survivor, is not mistaken. As a result, the plot will hinge not on whether she’s correct when she confronts Frederick Schiller, a.k.a. Friedrich Schillinghaussen, but rather on how the Schiller family deals with the exposure. And the Schillers are no ordinary family. Schiller’s wife, Sophie Naumann, is a well-known Jewish activist, which means that Kenney’s (The Son of John Devlin, 1999, etc.) whole story is made or broken on whether the reader can accept somewhat outrageous premise of a Jew and a Nazi falling in love in 1930s Germany. Further complications and mini-plots turn up when the man who’s given the initial investigative assignment in the US attorney’s office happens to be dating Schiller’s daughter, Diane, also a lawyer. It turns out that that man, David Keegan, has a family secret of his own, regarding his abusive father and dead mother, that he’s eager to uncover—so eager that it has affected his relationship with Diane. He also has a secret he’d like to keep buried, but can’t, thanks to an unscrupulous colleague who wants the job Keegan is in line for when the head of the department retires. Despite all this, it’s sentimentality rather than plot that builds throughout the narrative, so that by the end, the the tale has a numbing, touchy-feely tone. While the Schiller and Keegan family melodramas are resolved, the author writes himself into a corner with the subplot in the US attorney’s office and leaves Keegan’s professional fate hanging in the balance.

Two-and-a-half good stories, marred by, respectively, implausibility, sentimentality, and a desire to wrap up things too neatly.

Pub Date: July 1, 2001

ISBN: 0-449-00588-7

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2001

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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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