A flashy but jumbled tale about a man and his novel.

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THE SEARCH FOR CIRCE

A hubristic writer sets off on a dangerous course with forces much greater than himself in this metafictional thriller.

Denver, 2021. Sean McNabb firmly believes this is the greatest day of his life. Chicago publisher Octagon sends the marketing consultant and aspiring author a plane ticket. Sean is certain that this is a sign that Octagon has accepted his book, The Cursed Man. The novel follows the life and times of Darrington Circe, a hyperdisciplined yet anonymous man who begins to see phantom crosshairs appear on the bodies of people who are about to die in various accidental ways. Sean travels to Chicago with a confidence that borders on egotism: “My novel will sell well in the heartland. I know the Midwest, and I know my novel. The big advance is understandable, as are the royalties that will come cascading in, sweetening my world with caviar…and young women with supple breasts to die for.” But when he arrives, he realizes he has been summoned for a different reason. He is one of 16 novelists who submitted manuscripts to Octagon that contained the same passage word for word: a paragraphlong description of an apocalyptic landscape. All 16 have been summoned to Chicago to get to the bottom of the common paragraph, and though they are not able to, Sean leaves more than a little intrigued. He takes with him the manuscript of one of his fellow rejected novelists, a dying woman who assures him her SF tale is a true vision of the future. She instructs him to “read it and tell the truth contained in here.” In alternating chapters, Sean and his fictional alter ego investigate their respective mysteries that nevertheless seem to lead to the same place: an endgame scenario that has been a lifetime in the making. Metteer’s (One Summer Season, 2016) prose deftly replicates the methodical, if slightly unreliable, voice of his protagonist, a man who is dependably precise and dramatic: “I make the shower as hot as I can stand it. I let the warmth melt away whatever possessed me. It’s my slow resurrection. The shower is followed by a shave, a 10-minute ordeal as the razor rakes away the last sign of my descent into mental hell.” But Sean is a patently off-putting narrator: a racist, misogynist, and narcissist consumed with getting even with those who have doubted him—his father, Big Mike, most of all—and who keeps a detailed diary of his sexual conquests. While the author attempts to redeem Sean as time goes on, it proves to be an impossible task. Metteer sets up a number of intriguing mysteries, particularly in the first 50 pages. Unfortunately, the toggling between Sean’s adventures and those of his fictional creation becomes more tedious than elucidating. One can imagine the Chuck Palahniuk–style mind-bender that the author was envisioning, but the pieces here just don’t quite come together, and the intended message becomes increasingly muddled.

A flashy but jumbled tale about a man and his novel.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: Nov. 8, 2019

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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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