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.

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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This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.

THE SCORPION'S TAIL

Past and present collide on a trail of death in the second in the authors’ Nora Kelly series, begun with Old Bones (2019).

When a local sheriff investigates the illegal activity of relic hunters in an abandoned, middle-of-nowhere New Mexico gold-mining town called High Lonesome, he discovers a mummified corpse and a fabulous cross of gold. The discovery is on federal land, so the FBI gets involved. Special Agent Corrie Swanson would have liked a juicier assignment than checking out some old bones in the high desert, but she has a degree in forensic anthropology, and she’s a rookie. She persuades a reluctant Dr. Nora Kelly, senior curator at the Santa Fe Archaeological Institute, to help puzzle out what happened to the man, as it’s unclear whether a crime has been committed. Forensics determine that the gold is slightly radioactive, and there’s a pack animal skull with a bullet hole. And by the looks of the decades-old corpse, the poor man suffered a horrible death. High Lonesome is on the Jornada del Muerto, or Dead Man’s Journey, the bleak and dismal trail that connected Mexico City and Santa Fe during Spanish colonial rule. The authors are expert plotters and storytellers with smart, engaging characters—Kelly is an experienced pro who thinks Swanson “looked very much the rookie.” Newbie Swanson had barely passed her firearms qualification, and being a lousy shot may bring tragic consequences and a guilty conscience. Luckily, Sheriff Watts has practiced his quick draw since he was a preschooler. Meanwhile, some of those relic hunters are dangerous men searching for an object—not the gold—unknown to Kelly and Swanson. To a descendant of the dead man, “most people would have thought his precious item fit only to line a henhouse with.” Expect nice twists, hairy danger, and good old-fashioned gunplay.

This one’s an attention grabber. Get a copy.

Pub Date: Jan. 12, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4727-8

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 18, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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