A compelling, well-written thriller with an effective, twisty plot.

FINDING MRS. FORD

In this literary thriller, a privileged woman’s life unravels when a figure from her past seeks her out.

In 2014, Watch Hill, Rhode Island, is a moneyed summer haven of yachts and “fifteen-bedroom ‘cottages.’ ” For middle-aged Susan Ford, née Bentley, it’s the 18th summer she’s spent there since meeting her husband, Jack, who died five years ago. With her friend (and stepson) Jack Jr., Susan helps to run a real estate business. The last thing she expects on a calm morning in August is a visit from the FBI, and questions about a man named Samuel Fakhouri. She claims not to know him—but when agents picked him up, arriving in Boston from Baghdad, he had Susan’s name and address on him. She stalls the feds so that she can visit her Fifth Avenue apartment in New York City, where she retrieves an old white envelope and a gun from a safe. When she meets again with the FBI, she’s ready to admit that she once knew Sammy, and the narrative moves to 1979 and suburban Detroit. Back then, Susan was an ambitious college student working at Frankie’s Disco for the summer with her friend Annie Nelson. Annie is bold, “impossibly beautiful,” and impulsive, and an unlikely pal for studious, serious Susan. Through Annie, Susan meets Sammy, a handsome Chaldean Catholic from a village near Mosul, Iraq. He’s one of the regulars at Frankie’s, and when he later takes her on a date, Susan doesn’t mind when she notices that “a gun had peeked out from Sammy’s waistband when he leaned in to kiss her.” In fact, the element of danger only seems to make him more attractive to her. As the past haunts the present, Susan must confront the secrets, lies, and choices that she made before she became Mrs. Ford. Royce, an actress and a story editor for Miramax, imbues her debut novel with plenty of drama, suspense, and sharp observations. For example, in the scenes set in 1979, she has Susan study “the indigenous peoples of Frankie’s” like a social scientist: “Italian-American men, Chaldean men, odd unaffiliated men, and pretty girls…leggy all-Americans, whose parents neither knew nor cared where they went on hot summer nights.” In 2014, she’s still noticing similarly telling details, as when she describes Jack Jr.’s seersucker suit as “just the right level of rumpled. His bowtie and pocket square are in matching yellow silk with a tiny pattern of Labrador Retrievers.” The other characters’ reminiscences and backstories, too, help to establish them as three-dimensional personalities. The novel’s sense of time and place, whether in Detroit or Manhattan, or in the 1970s or the 2010s, is always vivid and well-rendered. At first, it will be unclear to the reader why Susan is so filled with dread, as even the memories of 1979 seem fairly innocuous at first. However, Royce cleverly builds up troubling circumstances that drive toward a dramatic twist, which readers will find to be both plausible and unexpected.

A compelling, well-written thriller with an effective, twisty plot.

Pub Date: June 25, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-64293-172-3

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Post Hill Pr

Review Posted Online: May 28, 2019

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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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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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