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


Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

A much-beloved author gives a favorite recurring character her own novel.

Holly Gibney made her first appearance in print with a small role in Mr. Mercedes (2014). She played a larger role in The Outsider (2018). And she was the central character in If It Bleeds, a novella in the 2020 collection of the same name. King has said that the character “stole his heart.” Readers adore her, too. One way to look at this book is as several hundred pages of fan service. King offers a lot of callbacks to these earlier works that are undoubtedly a treat for his most loyal devotees. That these easter eggs are meaningless and even befuddling to new readers might make sense in terms of costs and benefits. King isn’t exactly an author desperate to grow his audience; pleasing the people who keep him at the top of the bestseller lists is probably a smart strategy, and this writer achieved the kind of status that whatever he writes is going to be published. Having said all that, it’s possible that even his hardcore fans might find this story a bit slow. There are also issues in terms of style. Much of the language King uses and the cultural references he drops feel a bit creaky. The word slacks occurs with distracting frequency. King uses the phrase keeping it on the down-low in a way that suggests he probably doesn’t understand how this phrase is currently used—and has been used for quite a while. But the biggest problem is that this narrative is framed as a mystery without delivering the pleasures of a mystery. The reader knows who the bad guys are from the start. This can be an effective storytelling device, but in this case, waiting for the private investigator heroine to get to where the reader is at the beginning of the story feels interminable.

Loyal King stans may disagree, but this is a snooze.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9781668016138

Page Count: 464

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: July 13, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2023


Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Jack Ryan Jr. is back to risk life and limb in saving a teenage girl from international killers while his father, U.S. President Jack Ryan Sr., figures out what to do with Iran’s clandestine uranium enrichment facility, hidden in a mine.

Junior, head of the secret intelligence outfit The Campus, which was functionally wiped out in Tom Clancy Flash Point (2023), is heading across Texas to a rendezvous with his fiancee, Lisanne Robertson, a one-armed former Marine and cop. He’s waylaid by the aftermath of a multi-vehicle accident that he discovers resulted from a gun attack that left a driver hanging on for life, and now puts Jack in the crosshairs of the gunmen. A tip leads him to a 4 a.m. meeting with Amanda, a single mom whose impetuous daughter, Bella, has run off with her highly undesirable boyfriend only to be abducted by the baddies. the nation’s capital, American surveillance has determined that Iran is on the cusp of nuclear armament. The only way to stop them is unleashing an unpiloted and untested super plane with massive destructive power. The book’s treatment of Iran’s “existential threat to the entire globe” as a subplot is rather curious, to say the least. You keep waiting for Bentley to connect the two stories, but that happens only superficially. Late in the book, we are told as an afterthought that Iran’s immediate threat had been “mitigated.” Unfortunately, there is no mitigation of the novel’s hackneyed prose—"The analytical portion of Jack’s brain couldn’t help but be impressed.”

Lots of violent action with little payoff.

Pub Date: Sept. 5, 2023

ISBN: 9780593422816

Page Count: 512

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 12, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2023

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