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BLACK RIVER ORCHARD

Both complex and compelling, a nightmare-inducing parable about our own wickedness.

The myth of the poisoned apple belies the very real evil growing in a Pennsylvania orchard.

If Wendig’s latest is less paranoia-inducing than his techno-themed thrillers, it’s just as squelchy, made more so by the primeval nature of the antagonist. In Harrow, Pennsylvania, Dan Paxson is trying to raise his daughter, Calla, with good intentions, but he’s also a man with a chip on his shoulder. Little Dan, as he’s known to the members of the Crossed Keys, a nasty little social club, is determined to rescue his dead father’s legacy by resurrecting the family apple orchard and growing a singular, invasive species Calla dubs the Ruby Slipper. While Dan is already counting his future fortunes, we get to know Calla, 17-year-old burgeoning internet influencer, and her jock boyfriend, Marco, as well as plenty of other townsfolk. Among them are ultra-controlling lawyer Meg and her do-gooder wife, Emily, as well as Joanie and husband, Graham, whose S&M–themed Airbnb has rankled the locals. There are plenty of hints that something is amiss with Dan’s apple, but as he begins selling it at local farmers markets, it begins to change the people who eat it, making them stronger, more formidable, and meaner. Into this mix stumbles easily the oddest and most likable outlier, John Compass, a modern-day combination of trained soldier, newly minted Quaker, and Johnny Appleseed, who's looking for a friend who went missing while searching for a long-rumored Dutch varietal. On the other end is Edward Naberius, a mysterious, white-cloaked “restorer of lost dignities,” who is clearly more than he seems as well. Wendig writes doorstoppers, but it’s safe to say there’s something for everyone here, from the creepy Eyes Wide Shut vibe (complete with sacrificial rituals) to the Stephen King–laced dichotomy between the world’s everyday cruelty and the truly grotesque carnage that follows.

Both complex and compelling, a nightmare-inducing parable about our own wickedness.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 2023

ISBN: 9780593158746

Page Count: 640

Publisher: Del Rey

Review Posted Online: July 26, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2023

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ALL THE COLORS OF THE DARK

A grim theme with a compelling and complex plot.

A one-eyed boy becomes a monster’s prey in this chilling tale of missing children.

Thirteen-year-old Missouri boy Joseph “Patch” Macauley was born with one eye, so he wears an eye patch and imagines himself a pirate. In 1975, he sees a masked man assaulting a girl in the woods. He attacks the man and saves her, but the predator kidnaps him instead. Patch eventually wakes in total darkness in a cellar where a different girl secretly visits him, heard but always unseen. He learns that her name is Grace and that there have been other girls down there before. Grace paints vivid word pictures of the places she’s seen and of stories by authors like Steinbeck. “Pray and stay alive,” she whispers to Patch. Eventually he escapes, but she is nowhere to be found. Searching for Grace is the underlying thread in a complicated quest that takes unexpected turns over the years and might well bring heartbreak. Meanwhile, the bodies of three girls turn up locally, and their parents grieve. Is the town doctor responsible for their deaths? A local school photographer? Both? Patch paints an image of Grace based only on what he’d heard from her in the cellar; then come more paintings and displays in an art gallery—an implausible achievement for an untrained artist. Meanwhile, Grace may be anywhere, and he must find her whether alive or dead. By now an adult, he “pinball[s]” from state to state, meeting with “a dozen families looking for a dozen lost girls.” To sustain himself he robs banks with an unloaded flintlock, and he shares his loot with organizations that are looking for missing children. He has “reasoned the truest proof of life [is] pain,” and he vows that he will die before he quits his search. This is much more than a whodunit, though it fills that bill well. It is also a richly layered tale of love, loss, and hope.

A grim theme with a compelling and complex plot.

Pub Date: June 25, 2024

ISBN: 9780593798874

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: June 15, 2024

Kirkus Reviews Issue: tomorrow

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THE HOUSE ACROSS THE LAKE

A weird, wild ride.

Celebrity scandal and a haunted lake drive the narrative in this bestselling author’s latest serving of subtly ironic suspense.

Sager’s debut, Final Girls (2017), was fun and beautifully crafted. His most recent novels—Home Before Dark (2020) and Survive the Night (2021) —have been fun and a bit rickety. His new novel fits that mold. Narrator Casey Fletcher grew up watching her mother dazzle audiences, and then she became an actor herself. While she never achieves the “America’s sweetheart” status her mother enjoyed, Casey makes a career out of bit parts in movies and on TV and meatier parts onstage. Then the death of her husband sends her into an alcoholic spiral that ends with her getting fired from a Broadway play. When paparazzi document her substance abuse, her mother exiles her to the family retreat in Vermont. Casey has a dry, droll perspective that persists until circumstances overwhelm her, and if you’re getting a Carrie Fisher vibe from Casey Fletcher, that is almost certainly not an accident. Once in Vermont, she passes the time drinking bourbon and watching the former supermodel and the tech mogul who live across the lake through a pair of binoculars. Casey befriends Katherine Royce after rescuing her when she almost drowns and soon concludes that all is not well in Katherine and Tom’s marriage. Then Katherine disappears….It would be unfair to say too much about what happens next, but creepy coincidences start piling up, and eventually, Casey has to face the possibility that maybe some of the eerie legends about Lake Greene might have some truth to them. Sager certainly delivers a lot of twists, and he ventures into what is, for him, new territory. Are there some things that don’t quite add up at the end? Maybe, but asking that question does nothing but spoil a highly entertaining read.

A weird, wild ride.

Pub Date: June 21, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-593-18319-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2022

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