A frenetic, welcome return to Dave and John’s grotesque but funny grindhouse nightmare.

WHAT THE HELL DID I JUST READ

Dave, John, and Amy are back to kick supernatural ass and chew bubble gum. And they’re all out of bubble gum.

Wong (Futuristic Violence and Fancy Suits, 2015, etc.)—in reality, Cracked.com executive editor Jason Pargin—burst onto the horror-comedy scene with his phantasmagorical novel John Dies at the End (2009) and has been steadily ratcheting up the madness ever since. You really can’t say he didn’t warn you when his new book’s first words are: “You want to hear a story? Well, buckle the fuck up.” Here Wong revisits his weird Midwestern town (name undisclosed) that’s much like the splatterpunk cousin of Welcome to Night Vale (2015). What starts as a kidnapping case—a little girl is taken by a paranormal entity calling itself “Nymph”—quickly spins out of control to include biker gangs, a secretive government agency, implanted memories, a flying bat creature, and a boss-level leviathan affectionately known as “Millibutt.” “Let me give you a tip: if you’re ever the victim of a terrible crime—like, say, your kid goes missing—and you see the cops consulting with a couple of white trash–looking dipshits in their late twenties, it’s time to worry,” Dave warns us. As crazy as things get, the book remains grounded via an apocalyptic rain storm (giving Nymph a nice Blade Runner–inspired monologue), Dave’s stubborn reluctance to treat his depression, Amy’s sensible charm, and John’s ineffable, if meth-fueled, confidence. But before you think this is evolving into a domestic drama, bear in mind that it also features a porn star made of shape-shifting bug monsters, a DIY gun that shoots hellfire-laced dildos, and a T-shirt cannon packed with the Shroud of Turin. There’s even the return of old favorites like Dr. Albert Marconi and the psychedelic drug Soy Sauce. Oh, and John dies. Again.

A frenetic, welcome return to Dave and John’s grotesque but funny grindhouse nightmare.

Pub Date: Oct. 3, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-250-04020-6

Page Count: 384

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: July 11, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2017

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

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THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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