An engaging thriller with plenty of humor, good characterization, and a memorable villain, even if each has moments of...

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Psycho-Tropics

A homicidal maniac frames a wealthy beach bum for murder in retribution for an old sin in this debut novel.

Likable surfer Danny Teakwell won $5 million in the lottery, allowing him to pursue an aimless, self-destructive lifestyle. It’s appropriate for a guy who’s never gotten over youthful tragedies. In high school, for example, he and his friends, Troy Stoddelmeyer and John Mangrum, were involved in a shameful incident that cost him his relationship with the love of his life, Sari Hunter. But a reunion with her is at hand, giving him hope that he can get a second chance. Unfortunately, an insane killer, Jaxon Kempler, also is planning to attend; he seeks revenge for what Teakwell and his friends did 20 years ago, through a combination of murder and frame-ups. Box does a great job with Teakwell’s back story, plausibly developing his sweet relationship with Hunter and leaving readers wanting to find out what ruined their love. The unexpected answer makes Teakwell seem sympathetic and flawed. Kempler is also very well-drawn, as the author uses darkly comic, third-person narration to enter his very disturbed mind; one early killing, for example, is “[j]ust something he had to do, like eating pancakes on days of the month divisible by three.” But as good as the characterization and gleeful malice are, they occasionally falter. One of Kempler’s acts, in particular, may be too gruesome for some readers. Also, Mangrum’s reasons for being involved are a stretch, as are Kempler’s motives. Although the cast of oddballs is wacky Floridian fun for the most part, a subplot about Teakwell’s attorney’s problems seems unnecessary, and it devolves into a hokey bit of comic violence. However, these flaws shouldn’t prevent audiences from enjoying this beach read.

An engaging thriller with plenty of humor, good characterization, and a memorable villain, even if each has moments of weakness.

Pub Date: Jan. 30, 2015

ISBN: 978-0692371350

Page Count: 462

Publisher: Friction Press

Review Posted Online: May 6, 2015

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A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

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THE GLASS HOTEL

A financier's Ponzi scheme unravels to disastrous effect, revealing the unexpected connections among a cast of disparate characters.

How did Vincent Smith fall overboard from a container ship near the coast of Mauritania, fathoms away from her former life as Jonathan Alkaitis' pretend trophy wife? In this long-anticipated follow-up to Station Eleven (2014), Mandel uses Vincent's disappearance to pick through the wreckage of Alkaitis' fraudulent investment scheme, which ripples through hundreds of lives. There's Paul, Vincent's half brother, a composer and addict in recovery; Olivia, an octogenarian painter who invested her retirement savings in Alkaitis' funds; Leon, a former consultant for a shipping company; and a chorus of office workers who enabled Alkaitis and are terrified of facing the consequences. Slowly, Mandel reveals how her characters struggle to align their stations in life with their visions for what they could be. For Vincent, the promise of transformation comes when she's offered a stint with Alkaitis in "the kingdom of money." Here, the rules of reality are different and time expands, allowing her to pursue video art others find pointless. For Alkaitis, reality itself is too much to bear. In his jail cell, he is confronted by the ghosts of his victims and escapes into "the counterlife," a soothing alternate reality in which he avoided punishment. It's in these dreamy sections that Mandel's ideas about guilt and responsibility, wealth and comfort, the real and the imagined, begin to cohere. At its heart, this is a ghost story in which every boundary is blurred, from the moral to the physical. How far will Alkaitis go to deny responsibility for his actions? And how quickly will his wealth corrupt the ambitions of those in proximity to it? In luminous prose, Mandel shows how easy it is to become caught in a web of unintended consequences and how disastrous it can be when such fragile bonds shatter under pressure.

A strange, subtle, and haunting novel.

Pub Date: March 24, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-52114-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Nov. 25, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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