An intriguing premise, but this lacks the suspense and sharp plotting of the author's first novel. Call it sophomore slump.

THE PERFECT GUESTS

An actress is ensnared in a web of secrets when she takes a job as a guest in a murder-mystery game at a sprawling country manor.

Sadie Langton has lost more than one part-time job recently, and acting gigs are hard to come by, so when her agent calls with an offer, she can hardly refuse. Besides, she doesn’t even have to audition, and it sounds like fun: She’ll don fancy vintage clothes and play Miss Lamb, a guest for a startup murder-mystery company in the first run-through of their game. The dazzling and remote Raven Hall, in the Fens of eastern England, boasts an appropriately dark history. But as the game begins and the champagne flows, Sadie grows increasingly uneasy, and she’s especially unnerved by the strangely personal details on her clue cards. When a member of their group disappears, Sadie fears that someone is playing a far more dangerous game than the one she was hired for. As in her first novel, The Au Pair (2019), Rous entwines the present with the past, and Sadie’s narrative alternates with an account of events that took place at Raven Hall in the late 1980s, as told by 14-year-old Beth Soames, an orphaned teen who is taken in by Leonora Averell, her partner, Markus Meyer, and their daughter, Nina. Passages that seem to take place between Sadie's and Beth’s stories are interspersed as well. Beth and Nina become fast friends, but things take a dark turn when a boy named Jonas comes between them, and Leonora and Markus ask Beth to play a very strange game. Beth and Nina’s story is absorbing, but Sadie’s narrative never pops. With this kind of setup, one might expect some Clue-esque hijinks at the looming mansion, but alas, it is not to be, and the confusing pile-on of revelations in the final act, as the author connects the seemingly disparate threads, might leave readers with whiplash.

An intriguing premise, but this lacks the suspense and sharp plotting of the author's first novel. Call it sophomore slump.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593201-60-2

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Berkley

Review Posted Online: Oct. 27, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2020

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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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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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