An evocative thriller that doesn’t quite stick the landing.

RUBY FALLS

In Royce’s novel, a troubled young woman rushes into marriage, only to learn that her husband isn’t quite the man that he appears to be.

In 1987 Los Angeles, rising soap-opera star Eleanor Russell has just wed the handsome antiques dealer Orlando Montague. They rushed to the altar after a whirlwind six-week romance, and Eleanor hasn’t yet told him everything about her past, including the fact that her father—also an antiques dealer—abandoned her when she was 6 during a tour of a cave at Ruby Falls in Tennessee; the trauma still feels fresh 20 years later. Eleanor and Orlando buy a rose-covered cottage in Hollywood together and she quickly lands the lead role in a remake of the classic film adaptation Rebecca. Along the way, she adopts a feisty cat that wanders onto her property. Then Orlando starts to behave oddly; first, he refuses to let Eleanor’s mother come visit them for Thanksgiving: “You’re all the family and friends I need this year,” he tells his wife. Then Eleanor realizes that he’s been snooping through her desk and suspects that he may be having an affair with their real estate agent. She soon worries she’s being conned, and wonders what else her new spouse might be capable of doing. At the same time, Dottie Robinson, a clairvoyant who lives next door, helps Eleanor delve into the secrets of her father’s disappearance—and specifically, whether he planned the vanishing himself. Can she uncover the truth without losing her grip on reality?

Royce’s prose is taut and propulsive, as when she regrets telling her mother that she’s never been happier in her life: “Why did I say that? I shouldn’t have used that phrase. That is the thing they always say on soap operas before the axe falls—before the cancer diagnosis or hidden twins or un-dead-ex-wives come down from the attic.” The book has a fun premise, and the pages turn easily as Eleanor’s life slowly turns into a mystery worthy of a film—one in which she can’t even be sure of the identities of the people closest to her. That said, the narration inevitably gets a bit unreliable, and the ending, while surprising in its details, isn’t quite as satisfying as it should be, nor is it terribly fresh. The extent to which the reader will be taken in by this story will likely depend on how familiar they are with similar tales in the thriller genre; the works of author Daphne du Maurier and filmmaker Alfred Hitchcock loom large over Eleanor’s plight, as does that of Shirley Jackson, the writer of The Haunting of Hill House. Still, many readers will find this journey to be a fun one, as it inhabits a hallucinatory Hollywood where fact and fiction mingle freely and even the smallest acts can feel ominous. Although the book may not fully live up to the works that inspired it, it’s an often enjoyable pastiche with plenty of twists and turns.

An evocative thriller that doesn’t quite stick the landing.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64293-709-1

Page Count: 272

Publisher: Post Hill Press

Review Posted Online: March 10, 2021

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

OCEAN PREY

No oceans in Minnesota, you say? That won’t stop Lucas Davenport and Virgil Flowers, who are clearly determined to burn through their bucket list on the federal government’s dime.

The murders of three Coast Guard officers chasing a suspicious boat in Florida waters by crooks who set fire to the boat moments after abandoning it send shock waves through the DEA, the FBI, and eventually the U.S. Marshals Service. In short order Lucas and his colleague and pal Bob Matees find themselves on a task force Florida Sen. Christopher Colles convenes to find the drugs the fugitives managed to dump into the Atlantic before they shot their pursuers and arrest everyone in sight. The duo’s modus operandi seems to be to talk to everyone who’s seen anything, and then talk to everyone they’ve mentioned, and so on, taking regular breaks to drink, reminisce, and swap wisecracks. Everything is so relaxed and routine that fans of this long-running series will just know that Sandford has something more up his sleeve, and he does. Eventually the task force’s net widens to make room for Virgil, who, working with Marshal Rae Givens, hires himself out to the criminals as a diver who can retrieve those drugs while Lucas and his allies work their way higher and higher up the food chain of baddies. The cast is enormous and mostly forgettable, but Sandford manages to work up a full head of steam when Lucas realizes that his scorched-earth tactics have put Virgil and Rae in serious danger.

Sprawling and only intermittently suspenseful till that last act: below average for this distinguished series.

Pub Date: April 13, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-08702-2

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: March 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2021

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