The only blemish in the blood bath is the pretense, late on in the proceedings, that Chon and O are learning something...

THE KINGS OF COOL

A PREQUEL TO SAVAGES

Winslow offers a prequel for his drug-war epic Savages (2010).

The year 2005 finds Ben Leonard and his buddy Chon doing what they do best: helping Orange County get high on Ben’s custom-bred hydroponic grass. So successful is their business, in fact, that Duane Crowe, of The Association, pays Ben a visit gently suggesting that they either submit a monthly charge to the established network of importers or take their business elsewhere. Chon is not the person to take this challenge lying down, and soon he’s struck preemptively at a couple of Association minnows he unwisely leaves alive—a decision that acts like the starting gun at a marathon. Quick as a sentence fragment, Winslow is piling on the violence, the flashbacks to an earlier generation of Southern California surfers and hippies, and the one-word paragraphs, as he makes a strong bid for the James Ellroy Award for Self-Indulgent Prose. Since fans know that Ben and Chon and their childhood friend O-for-Ophelia will still be around to peddle primo product in Savages, The Association’s threats don’t carry the menace they would outside the wonderful world of prequels, and readers are free to enjoy the proceedings as deliriously overgalvanized, intermittently hilarious ritual. The walk-ons who pop up just long enough to get caught in the crossfire are too interchangeable for tears, and not even Chon’s deployment to Afghanistan and his encounter with a bomb are cause for alarm.

The only blemish in the blood bath is the pretense, late on in the proceedings, that Chon and O are learning something important about their fathers. Sorry, gang, but you’re in the wrong pew.

Pub Date: June 19, 2012

ISBN: 978-1-4516-6532-1

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2012

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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