Whether or not these characters grip us, we certainly understand their phlegmatic fatalism, encapsulated in the recurring...

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CARACOL BEACH

Arbitrary whimsy and narrative fireworks are the order of two tense days in June in a hitherto sleepy Florida resort (the title town)—in this heavy-breathing 1998 novel by Cuban journalist and poet Alberto.

It goes sort of like this. “Beto” Milanes, a Cuban combat soldier who served during the war in Angola (“a psychopath who talked endlessly about Bengal tigers, African leopards, blowflies in the air and military ambushes . . . ,” among other things), and who has tried and failed to kill himself, takes three college kids prisoner and forces them at gunpoint to commit violent acts of vandalism, preparatory to offing him. Constable Sam Ramos, likewise a veteran of multiple military campaigns (and linked, as we learn, to Milanes), must deal with these annoyances as well as his gay transvestite son Nelson's unruly misbehavior at the Bastille bar and relationship with his Armenian lover Tigran Androsian (reputedly “afraid of chickens”: don't even ask). A hot-blooded hooker and a tireless neighborhood busybody make Sam's life even more miserable. If that weren't enough already, flashbacks to the three students' relationships at their Manhattan college reveal further sexual and other behavioral particulars and permutations—as do Beto's hallucinatory identity crisis and deranged memories of his roundheeled mother, “Caterina the Great.” In case we've missed anything, Alberto thoughtfully provides a concluding Appendix that gives us more information about his 30 or so significant characters, and a Chronology of “The Facts in the Case” compiled by the exhausted Constable Ramos. This seems tantamount to admitting that many readers will finish the book still wondering exactly what's going on.

Whether or not these characters grip us, we certainly understand their phlegmatic fatalism, encapsulated in the recurring sentence “God must know why the hell he does what he does.” Presumably, Alberto does too, but you'd never know it from Caracol Beach.

Pub Date: May 16, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-40540-2

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2000

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This is fast-paced, nonstop fun. Cussler fans will gobble it up.

JOURNEY OF THE PHARAOHS

Rumors of lost Egyptian treasure spark high adventure in this 17th in the NUMA series featuring oceanographer Kurt Austin and his crew (Sea of Greed, 2018, etc.).

Over 3,000 years ago, grave robbers sail away with loot from a pharaoh’s tomb. In 1927, Jake Melbourne and his plane disappear in his attempt at a trans-Atlantic flight. In the present day, arms merchants known as the Bloodstone Group have taken to stealing antiquities. They are looking for a “treasure both vast and glorious” that hieroglyphics say was shipped down the Nile and out of Egypt, perhaps even west across the Atlantic. (Holy scurvy! That must’ve been a lot of hard rowing!) The criminals are known to MI5 as “very dangerous people" and "merchants selling death.” Perfectly willing to kill everyone in their way, they are aided by mechanical crows and Fydor and Xandra, nasty sibling assassins jointly called the Toymaker. Such are the foes faced by Austin and his team from the National Underwater and Marine Agency. Of course, Austin has no interest in profit; he will gladly leave the ancient riches wherever they are. Action arrives early and often, and the failed pre-Lindbergh flight fits in neatly. Cussler and Brown concoct a nifty plot with disparate, sometimes over-the-top twists that will make even hardcore adventure fans say “Wow!” Expect claustrophobic gunfights, aerial combat, a life-threatening flood, messages from the dead, coffins of gold—and a vintage classic car, because why not? “We’re going to steal the greatest deposit of Egyptian treasure the world has ever known,” brags the evil mastermind. But he’ll have to climb over the series hero’s dead body first, which—no plot spoiler here—ain’t gonna happen.

This is fast-paced, nonstop fun. Cussler fans will gobble it up.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-593-08308-6

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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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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