An original and imaginative mix of macabre lore and psychological horror.

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THE SCHOHARIE

A bridge collapse becomes complicated by an outbreak of Native American sorcery in this debut supernatural thriller.

When a wet spring in upstate New York leads to heavy flooding and the collapse of a bridge over the Schoharie Creek, soccer coach and fireman Aaron Bonner almost drives his pickup into the suddenly gaping chasm on the I-90 thruway. Even more unsettling is the apparition of a Native American warrior in buckskin, war paint, and a braid beckoning Aaron from across the gap. More frightening visions plague Aaron as he does emergency flood work: He sees the warrior, who is invisible to others, scalping the corpse of a drowned motorist and starts hearing the voices of dead people shrieking inside his head. He thinks he is going crazy, as do his girlfriend, Sara Harrigan, and her dad, Ben, a hard-bitten sheriff with a prickly attitude toward him who remembers that Aaron’s half-Iroquois father also exhibited bouts of insane violence before he was killed by police. Things escalate when the warrior manages to cut off Aaron’s toe. The talisman enables the warrior to turn Aaron into a puppet compelled to repeat any act he pantomimes, no matter how horrifying. Johnson creates a believable world of small-town people and first responders with long memories and complex relationships as a setting for eruptions of eeriness. She writes vivid action and flood scenes, filled with “the rush of untamed water, the splatter of the endless downpour, the grunts and shouts of workforce prisoners who heaved sandbags to and fro, and the whining motors of rescue boats fighting a swift current.” In her evocative prose, the novel’s magic feels both realistic and picturesque. (Gathering his powers for a catastrophic strike, the warrior “held out his arms as if presenting the sky with a large and bulky gift,” then “dropped the imaginary package…as if it had gained an obscene amount of weight.”) Aaron’s helpless subjection to a malevolent force that no one else perceives makes for a queasily terrifying read.

An original and imaginative mix of macabre lore and psychological horror.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5439-0767-4

Page Count: 254

Publisher: BookBaby

Review Posted Online: May 31, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2019

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

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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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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