Amusing space-crime noir with gangster-fiction tropes.

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OPTIONAL RETIREMENT PLAN

A hitman in the future finds himself a target when his advancing Alzheimer’s disease causes his boss to place him on a hit list—attracting killers from the Moon to Mars.

Spacegoing humanity in the future is dominated by the vast, amoral, profit-minded SynCorp, in a manner much akin to the Mafia, complete with shoutouts to Mario Puzo and The Godfather. Eugene “Stacks” Fischer was a top hitman and troubleshooter for SynCorp bosses Tony One-point-oh and his son, Tony Two-point-oh; he did his job well, eliminating rivals and revolutionaries. But now, Fischer, in his late 50s, shows signs of dementia; a common cybernetic brain implant that could have prevented his Alzheimer’s would have also allowed people to track him, so he never had it installed. Due to the possibility that Fischer could accidentally give up family trade secrets, Tony Two-point-oh orders Fischer to accept “retirement”—meaning that, in three days, another assassin will kill him; bounty hunters and mercenary types on Earth, the Moon, and Mars have heard the news, and they seek to collect by killing him first. Stacks has no intention of going down easily. Pourteau (Serpent’s Fury, 2019, etc.) delivers a sci-fi yarn that’s so hardboiled in tone that it verges on spoof. It’s part of a multivolume series that he created with David Bruns called the SynCorp Saga, and it’s full of gallows humor with violence to match. He can crack wise with the best of them, even while he’s looking the big goodbye in the kisser (“I curled my lip and shook my head. I was already dying. No need to make it worse with the aftertaste of cheap liquor”). However, in an afterword, the author notes that Alzheimer’s is indeed a serious condition, and he recommends that readers check out Lisa Genova’s 2007 novel Still Alice, which also deals with the theme. Although this brisk tale can be read as a stand alone, it may tempt fans to try other titles in the series.

Amusing space-crime noir with gangster-fiction tropes.

Pub Date: Nov. 5, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 263

Publisher: Aethon Books

Review Posted Online: Oct. 18, 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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