Gloomy, suspenseful, and sometimes messy tales.

TORRENTS OF OUR TIME

TWENTY-TWO STORIES

A collection offers short stories with dark themes.

In an introduction to this volume, Fennell notes: “For the longest time, I couldn’t write directly about mental health.” Nonfiction could not clearly convey his experiences “as someone who lived and loved next to” mental health disorders, and so he opted for fiction: a different kind of truth. Death and familial dysfunction haunt these tales. In the opening story, “Under a Big Moon,” a mother sips a concoction of lemonade and antifreeze. Women who have lost custody of their children turn to drinking and sex work. Kids are frequently orphaned and babies are occasionally murdered, their faces “stiff and blue with dead round eyes pointing to the sky.” The ambitious collection works best in two ways. First, when one story calls back to another. In “The Witch in the Woods,” the title character offers a child a glass of lemonade and the kid thinks “with antifreeze,” skillfully echoing “Under a Big Moon.” More impressive is when a tale finds moments of tenderness to balance the bleakness—a dying man fondly remembers sunshine and his children going off to school. Yet the collection often delivers a single tone: grim. Many of Fennell’s stories, which employ different narrative techniques, create effective tension and suspense. For example, one tale is narrated in direct address: “You look amazing, but there is no one there to tell you, and so I whisper it to you.” Another story is narrated in the third person: “She came out there, and the young girl, Rachael, looked at the…woman.” Unfortunately, some of the tales are confusing. The dialogue is frequently not inside quotation marks and lacks tags to identify the speakers. Readers will find it difficult to disentangle what is dialogue, who the speakers are, and what is narration. The result is that the audience must search for clarity.

Gloomy, suspenseful, and sometimes messy tales.

Pub Date: Oct. 6, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-77728-101-4

Page Count: 154

Publisher: Firenze Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 25, 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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Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

OCEAN PREY

No oceans in Minnesota, you say? That won’t stop Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, who are clearly determined to burn through their bucket list on the federal government’s dime.

The murders of three Coast Guard officers chasing a suspicious boat in Florida waters by crooks who set fire to the boat moments after abandoning it send shock waves through the DEA, the FBI, and eventually the U.S. Marshals Service. In short order Lucas and his colleague and pal Bob Matees find themselves on a task force Florida Sen. Christopher Colles convenes to find the drugs the fugitives managed to dump into the Atlantic before they shot their pursuers and arrest everyone in sight. The duo’s modus operandi seems to be to talk to everyone who’s seen anything, and then talk to everyone they’ve mentioned, and so on, taking regular breaks to drink, reminisce, and swap wisecracks. Everything is so relaxed and routine that fans of this long-running series will just know that Sandford has something more up his sleeve, and he does. Eventually the task force’s net widens to make room for Virgil, who, working with Marshal Rae Givens, hires himself out to the criminals as a diver who can retrieve those drugs while Lucas and his allies work their way higher and higher up the food chain of baddies. The cast is enormous and mostly forgettable, but Sandford manages to work up a full head of steam when Lucas realizes that his scorched-earth tactics have put Virgil and Rae in serious danger.

Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08702-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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