A striking start to a series with solid action and arresting details but saddled with a bland hero.

THEY DIE ALONE

A ROSS DUNCAN NOVEL

A trigger-happy, Chandler-esque gangster story set in 1930s Chicago.

Bank robber Ross Duncan is wanted by the FBI. Looking for his late partner’s little sister in Chicago, Duncan suddenly finds himself being courted as a hired gun by both the Italian and the Irish mobs. He has ample opportunity to demonstrate his skill with a .45, and his dialogue has Philip Marlowe’s steely wit. But unlike Marlowe’s outings, this debut novel, the first of a projected series, is less sure of its protagonist’s moral compass and intentions. The Irish want Duncan to bump off an Italian mob captain, while the Italians want him as extra muscle on a poorly planned bank job. Eventually, both syndicates want him to rub out Chicago’s new, incorruptible federal prosecutor. Meanwhile, Duncan tracks down Elinore, the long-lost little sister, but she turns out to be a laudanum addict and the girlfriend of the head of the Irish mob. Bartley mixes up a stiff noir cocktail: sharp dialogue, shadowy settings, and severe, coldblooded violence. Unfortunately, up until a multichapter flashback two-thirds of the way through the story, Duncan is such a man of mystery that the heart of the book feels empty. He also seems starved for female companionship; Elinore initially slinks into the story like a femme fatale, but she elicits so many conflicting impulses from Duncan that their relationship ends up feeling tame and lifeless. A faint human connection with his widowed landlady and her young son similarly goes nowhere. Yet the outstanding final set piece, a tensely rendered raid on a federal office, nearly makes up for the holey story. The prose can sparkle, the atmosphere is there, period details are pitch-perfect, and the action scenes are executed with verve; hopefully, as the series progresses, Duncan will be inspired by his excellently rendered environment.

A striking start to a series with solid action and arresting details but saddled with a bland hero.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2012

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 225

Publisher: Acorn Independent Press

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2013

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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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Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

ALL YOUR PERFECTS

Named for an imperfectly worded fortune cookie, Hoover's (It Ends with Us, 2016, etc.) latest compares a woman’s relationship with her husband before and after she finds out she’s infertile.

Quinn meets her future husband, Graham, in front of her soon-to-be-ex-fiance’s apartment, where Graham is about to confront him for having an affair with his girlfriend. A few years later, they are happily married but struggling to conceive. The “then and now” format—with alternating chapters moving back and forth in time—allows a hopeful romance to blossom within a dark but relatable dilemma. Back then, Quinn’s bad breakup leads her to the love of her life. In the now, she’s exhausted a laundry list of fertility options, from IVF treatments to adoption, and the silver lining is harder to find. Quinn’s bad relationship with her wealthy mother also prevents her from asking for more money to throw at the problem. But just when Quinn’s narrative starts to sound like she’s writing a long Facebook rant about her struggles, she reveals the larger issue: Ever since she and Graham have been trying to have a baby, intimacy has become a chore, and she doesn’t know how to tell him. Instead, she hopes the contents of a mystery box she’s kept since their wedding day will help her decide their fate. With a few well-timed silences, Hoover turns the fairly common problem of infertility into the more universal problem of poor communication. Graham and Quinn may or may not become parents, but if they don’t talk about their feelings, they won’t remain a couple, either.

Finding positivity in negative pregnancy-test results, this depiction of a marriage in crisis is nearly perfect.

Pub Date: July 17, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7159-8

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: May 1, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2018

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