Unlikely heroes battle a frightening fungus that could wipe out humanity in this taut, mordant thriller debut.

READ REVIEW

COLD STORAGE

A long-forgotten but deadly organism stored in a deep cave becomes a chilling threat, and a retired bioweapons agent and two security guards are the only ones who can stop it.

Koepp is a very successful screenwriter (Jurassic Park, etc.) and director (Premium Rush, etc.) whose film experience is apparent in this propulsive disaster tale. In the prologue, set in 1987, two agents of the U.S. Defense Nuclear Agency, specialists in neutralizing bioweapons and the like, head for a remote Australian town where debris from the Skylab satellite fell. There, Roberto Diaz and Trini Romano find a bizarre catastrophe: An unknown fungus that mutates with spectacular speed has killed everyone in Kiwirrkurra. Diaz and Romano clean up the mess and contain a sample of the organism, which they deliver to a huge cave under the Missouri River bluffs used by the military as a highly secured storage facility. What could go wrong, right? Cut to the present, when the military has sealed the lowest sublevel of the cave, where the fungus is, and sold the rest of the space to a self-storage company. Add a little climate change to raise the underground temperature, and the novel kicks into high gear. Koepp keeps a tight focus on three characters: Diaz, who is called out of retirement to handle the situation secretly, and two guards at the storage facility. Travis “Teacake” Meacham is an ex-convict trying to get his life back on track. Naomi Williams is a college student with two jobs and a sweet little daughter she’s raising as a single mother. When the two try to track down an unfamiliar warning signal going off in the facility, they find a nightmare. Koepp builds a tight plot as the three race against time and the fungus, a fictional but all-too-convincing monster of an organism that, if it escapes, could bring on global extinctions. Roberto, Travis, and Naomi are engaging, believable characters. Koepp is skilled at sharp, often humorous dialogue, and Roberto’s discovery of the physical barriers to being a hero at age 68 is both darkly funny and an effective source of suspense.

Unlikely heroes battle a frightening fungus that could wipe out humanity in this taut, mordant thriller debut.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-06-291643-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Ecco/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 12

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • Kirkus Reviews'
    Best Books Of 2019

  • New York Times Bestseller

  • IndieBound Bestseller

THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

Did you like this book?

THE NIGHT CIRCUS

Self-assured, entertaining debut novel that blends genres and crosses continents in quest of magic.

The world’s not big enough for two wizards, as Tolkien taught us—even if that world is the shiny, modern one of the late 19th century, with its streetcars and electric lights and newfangled horseless carriages. Yet, as first-time novelist Morgenstern imagines it, two wizards there are, if likely possessed of more legerdemain than true conjuring powers, and these two are jealous of their turf. It stands to reason, the laws of the universe working thus, that their children would meet and, rather than continue the feud into a new generation, would instead fall in love. Call it Romeo and Juliet for the Gilded Age, save that Morgenstern has her eye on a different Shakespearean text, The Tempest; says a fellow called Prospero to young magician Celia of the name her mother gave her, “She should have named you Miranda...I suppose she was not clever enough to think of it.” Celia is clever, however, a born magician, and eventually a big hit at the Circus of Dreams, which operates, naturally, only at night and has a slightly sinister air about it. But what would you expect of a yarn one of whose chief setting-things-into-action characters is known as “the man in the grey suit”? Morgenstern treads into Harry Potter territory, but though the chief audience for both Rowling and this tale will probably comprise of teenage girls, there are only superficial genre similarities. True, Celia’s magical powers grow, and the ordinary presto-change-o stuff gains potency—and, happily, surrealistic value. Finally, though, all the magic has deadly consequence, and it is then that the tale begins to take on the contours of a dark thriller, all told in a confident voice that is often quite poetic, as when the man in the grey suit tells us, “There’s magic in that. It’s in the listener, and for each and every ear it will be different, and it will affect them in ways they can never predict.” Generous in its vision and fun to read. Likely to be a big book—and, soon, a big movie, with all the franchise trimmings.

 

Pub Date: Sept. 13, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-385-53463-5

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: April 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2011

Did you like this book?

more