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

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

Reader Votes

  • Readers Vote
  • 70

Our Verdict

  • Our Verdict
  • GET IT

  • New York Times Bestseller

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

Did you like this book?

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

Did you like this book?

more