Fans of alternative reality tales will probably stay the course; other readers may not.

KILL THE NEXT ONE

Carrying out a canny plan to kill two victims plunges a man into a world in which events and characters, including his own, change like visions in a haunted kaleidoscope.

Whatever may be said for or against Argentinian author Axat’s American debut, most will agree that his thriller’s opening sentence is a grabber that will keep readers following along, at least for a while: “Ted McKay was about to put a bullet through his brain when the doorbell rang.” Delaying his big finish, McKay greets one Justin Lynch. A total stranger to McKay, Lynch claims he knows what McKay was about to do with the 9 mm gun in his study. Lynch convinces McKay to delay shooting himself in order to kill two men in circumstances that justify homicide. The first proposed victim is Edward Blaine, a contemptible man who killed his girlfriend but went free from lack of evidence: McKay will be righting a sure wrong. And like McKay, the second victim, a man named Wendell, is contemplating taking his own life. If McKay shoots him, he’ll spare the victim’s family the trauma of a beloved’s suicide. Believing he suffers an inoperable tumor and therefore has little to lose, McKay takes the assignments, which play out in tightly written, suspenseful scenes. Alas, there are loose ends to the plans. First, evidence confronts McKay that suggests his wife and Wendell were having an affair. Then McKay is abducted to what appears to be a Boston mental hospital. Here he meets people he knows, including a therapist he had consulted to deal with his imminent demise. Pirandello-an twists and turns follow. McKay, in the reality of the hospital, learns he may not have really killed Wendell. McKay may actually be Wendell. And McKay may not really have a tumor. A demented possum, meanwhile, stalks McKay. As some characters launch into verbose, windy explanations of what’s going on, the narrative slows, and some plot turns become more fatiguing than breathtaking. The conclusion is nevertheless satisfying and provocative.

Fans of alternative reality tales will probably stay the course; other readers may not.

Pub Date: Dec. 13, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-316-35421-9

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2016

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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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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

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