THE PICKLE INDEX

A ramshackle circus troupe attempts to rescue its imprisoned ringleader in this political farce/allegory.

Horowitz’s prior fictional works have been collaborations, including the novel The New World (2015) with Chris Adrian and the ambitious book app The Silent History (2014) with Matthew Derby and Kevin Moffett. An extra set of hands might have improved this thin and only intermittently funny tale of wrongful arrest and totalitarian regimes. As the story opens in an imaginary country, circus leader Zloty Kornblatt has been arrested by a strike team and accused of illegal performances that stoked “mockery, destabilization, and anarchy.” While he stews in a “Confinement Needle” and awaits a kangaroo court’s verdict in a neighboring and more conservative province, circus member Flora helps plot a rescue, but her cohorts are unpromising saviors: husband-and-wife performers are at each other’s throats, and the strongman only wants to deliver imitation feats of strength according to “Continental mime theory.” The novel alternates between Flora’s voice—earnest, adventure-seeking—and that of a lackey for the regime holding Zloty—bureaucratic, propagandistic—which helps underscore Horowitz’s point about the virtues of independence, however scruffily acquired. But tonally, the novel never successfully settles into the satiric tone it aspires to, leaning heavily on quirky coinages (“smokepoot,” “tedfruit,” “Harmimal,” and the “Pickle Index” itself, a kind of collection of good-hearted folklore), while the plot turns as the circus infiltrates the needle are threadbare disguises, suddenly handy escape hatches, etc. It gives nothing away to say that the novel stands for the power of a small committed team to overwhelm the bad guys and challenge the way rebels are persecuted for public entertainment. But its plot and prose are too limp to sell the point. “Nonsense had gotten us this far,” Flora enthuses, as their plot comes together. But nonsense only goes so far.

Half-baked Orwell.

Pub Date: Nov. 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-374-53581-0

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Aug. 17, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2015

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

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

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 26

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

more