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

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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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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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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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THE LAST TRIAL

Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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