Shamus winner Emerson (The Smoke Room, 2007, etc.) gets a lot right here: strong characters, gripping action scenes. But the...

PRIMAL THREAT

A crime-fiction writer ventures into James Dickey territory, but doesn’t quite deliver.

When fireman Zak Polanski helps free Nadine Newcastle from her wrecked Lexus SUV, little does he know what else he’s letting loose. Not that prior knowledge would have mattered. Had those pent-up forces been twice as fractious, twice as malevolent, it wouldn’t have changed the fact that Nadine was so very pretty, so desperately scared, and that Zak found himself drawn to her beyond his power to resist. There are, true enough, counterbalancing facts that for Zak become immediately complicating and life-altering. For starters, Nadine is rich, and blue-collar Zak despises rich people. More importantly, she has an obsessively vengeful ex-boyfriend, and thereby hangs the bulk of this tale, a tale of mindless savagery played out in western Washington’s Cascade Mountains. By avocation, Zak is a passionate racer of mountain bikes. In company with four cyclist friends, he’s been planning a three day expedition that will cover 200 miles over extremely rugged, little-traveled terrain, a trek “similar to running three or four marathons back-to-back.” Eagerly, they embark—until William Potter III (Scooter), and his band of overprivileged brothers, turn up to rewrite the scenario drastically. For what the jealous, almost certainly sociopathic Scooter has in mind is all-out war, us against them, the deserving-rich against the loser-lesser classes, and if in the process a corpse or two happens to litter the landscape, what else is an enemy for? Suddenly, to Zak, the idea of civilization begins to seem almost frivolous as he struggles to survive the “primal threat” embodied by Scooter.

Shamus winner Emerson (The Smoke Room, 2007, etc.) gets a lot right here: strong characters, gripping action scenes. But the book is just too long and repetitious, and the suspense level suffers accordingly.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2008

ISBN: 978-0-345-49299-9

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2007

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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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Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

HOUR GAME

A serial killer with a sense of history is the baddie in this latest from Baldacci, one of the reigning kings of potboilers (Split Second, 2003, etc.).

He kills, he leaves clues, he flatters through imitation: Son of Sam, the San Francisco Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gracy, and so on down a sanguinary list of accredited members of the Monsters’ Hall of Fame. Suddenly, the landscape of poor little Wrightsburg, Virginia, is littered with corpses, and ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have their hands full. That’s because bewildered, beleaguered Chief of Police Todd Williams has turned to the newly minted private investigating firm of King and Maxwell for desperately needed (unofficial) help. Even these ratiocinative wizards, however, admit to puzzlement. “But I'm not getting this,” says Michelle. “Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you’re not them?” Excellent question, and it goes pretty much unanswered. Never mind—enter the battling Battles, a family with the requisite number of sins and secrets to qualify fully as hot southern Gothic and to prop up a plot in need. Bobby Battles, the patriarch, is bedridden, but Remmy, his wife, is one lively mischief-making steel magnolia. She’s brought breaking-and-entering charges against decent local handyman Junior Deaver, who as a result languishes in the county jail. Convinced of his innocence, Junior’s lawyer hires King & Maxwell to sniff around for exculpatory evidence. Well, will the two plot streams flow together? You betcha. Will the copycat-serial-killer at one point decide that King and Maxwell are just too clever to live? Inevitably. And when at last that CCSK’s identity is revealed and his crimes explained (talkily and tediously), will readers be satisfied? Only the charitable among them.

Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53108-1

Page Count: 440

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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