A promising but uneven debut that walks the line between speculative fiction and ghost story.

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CATHERINE HOUSE

Students accepted to the mysterious and prestigious Catherine House agree to give up contact with the outside world for three years in exchange for unimaginable power and influence.

Ines arrives at Catherine House because she has nowhere else to go. After months spent partying, she has barely graduated high school. "I was staying out late, swallowing magic pills, and laughing so hard I threw up," she recalls. Burdened by a deeply traumatic memory, Ines sees the isolation of Catherine House as a way to insulate herself from the consequences of the real world. But Ines quickly realizes that she doesn't fit in at Catherine House either. She lacks the motivation that drives other Catherine students, like her quiet, focused roommate, Baby, who desperately wants to be accepted to the "new materials" concentration. The highly competitive department attracts the school's best and brightest students as well as the bulk of its funding. But what do new materials students actually study in the laboratories of Catherine House's basement? And why are all students asked to take part in cultlike meditative sessions that seem to bind their identities to the school? Thomas' debut borrows from the grand tradition of the gothic, exchanging ghosts for dubious scientific experimentation and excavating how figures of power and privilege manipulate disadvantaged students to their own benefit. Thomas is at her best when she cracks open the conventions of elite spaces and turns them on their heads. Instead of a whitewashed institution with token diversity, Catherine House brims with sexually fluid teens from all walks of life. And despite Catherine House's reputation, the school crumbles from the inside out. Because Ines has experienced so much trauma, however, she's often disconnected and distant from the characters and events that propel the plot forward. Even her curiosity and ability to explore Catherine's depths are tamped down by depression and fear. This results in muted, lyrical observations about what it feels like to be in "the house...in the woods," but it also means the reader only learns as much as Ines herself can see and process. In the end, we're shut out of the mysteries of Catherine House, too.

A promising but uneven debut that walks the line between speculative fiction and ghost story.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-290565-9

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 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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