THE ARMAGEDDON RAG

Simpleminded, heavy-going nostalgia for the Sixties-rock counterculture—gotten up as lurid melodrama, with a murky mixture of psycho-whodunit, conspiracy-thriller, and (in the feverish, limp final chapters) vague occultery. Novelist Sandy Blair, who was a counterculture journalist back in the 1960s, agrees to investigate a murder for his old, now-commercialized underground paper Hedgehog: Jamie Lynch, slimy bygone rock-promoter, has been killed up in Maine, his heart cut out! Could this be connected to Lynch's old band "the Nazgul," a favorite of Sandy's? Yes indeed. The body's found on a bloody Nazgul poster—and on the anniversary of the Nazgul's final West Mesa concert in 1971. . . when lead singer Pat Hobbins was killed by a sniper, leading to crowd-panic fatalities. So Sandy tracks down the three surviving Nazgul band-members: a contented New Jersey bar-owner (whose beloved bar then burns down mysteriously); a pathetic has-been, playing lousy music in Chicago; a Santa Fe family man, still aching for a comeback. He also visits a few of his Sixties chums—with sex, laments over America's loss of '60s values, anger over assorted sell-outs, and several shrill, overdone encounters. (An old draft-dodger pal is being kept virtual prisoner by his rightwing father.) But Sandy eventually realizes that the villain behind the killing is rich, renegade radical-terrorist Edan Morse, who is planning a reunion/tour of the Nazgul—complete with a living replica of the dead Pat Hobbins and apocalyptic, crowd-riot material: "We will seize the bloodtide, and in its wake we will have a new world." Seduced by Morse's lethal sidekick "Ananda," ambivalent Sandy becomes PR man for the comeback tour—slowly realizing that some demonic force is at work. (The kid impersonating Hobbins is possessed during performance.) And, when history threatens to repeat itself at West Mesa, it's Sandy who resists the demon, destructive force. . . clearing the way for a dubious happy ending all around. Unfortunately, hero Sandy is too self-righteous and relentlessly adolescent to take seriously—so his long, talky socio-cultural thrashings fall flat (despite some amusing wiseguy dialogue). And Martin, who managed to create subtle chills in Fevre Dream (1982), falls to make any aspect of the suspense here—the conspiracy, the demonics, the concerts—convincing or scary. The result, then, is a busy, ambitious hybrid—too shallow to engage thoughtful Sixties veterans, too pretentious to please thrill-seekers, but energetic and flashy enough to keep a fair-sized audience reading.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1983

ISBN: 0553383078

Page Count: 379

Publisher: Poseidon/Pocket Books

Review Posted Online: Sept. 30, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1983

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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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An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

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THE WATER DANCER

The celebrated author of Between the World and Me (2015) and We Were Eight Years in Power (2017) merges magic, adventure, and antebellum intrigue in his first novel.

In pre–Civil War Virginia, people who are white, whatever their degree of refinement, are considered “the Quality” while those who are black, whatever their degree of dignity, are regarded as “the Tasked.” Whether such euphemisms for slavery actually existed in the 19th century, they are evocatively deployed in this account of the Underground Railroad and one of its conductors: Hiram Walker, one of the Tasked who’s barely out of his teens when he’s recruited to help guide escapees from bondage in the South to freedom in the North. “Conduction” has more than one meaning for Hiram. It's also the name for a mysterious force that transports certain gifted individuals from one place to another by way of a blue light that lifts and carries them along or across bodies of water. Hiram knows he has this gift after it saves him from drowning in a carriage mishap that kills his master’s oafish son (who’s Hiram’s biological brother). Whatever the source of this power, it galvanizes Hiram to leave behind not only his chains, but also the two Tasked people he loves most: Thena, a truculent older woman who practically raised him as a surrogate mother, and Sophia, a vivacious young friend from childhood whose attempt to accompany Hiram on his escape is thwarted practically at the start when they’re caught and jailed by slave catchers. Hiram directly confronts the most pernicious abuses of slavery before he is once again conducted away from danger and into sanctuary with the Underground, whose members convey him to the freer, if funkier environs of Philadelphia, where he continues to test his power and prepare to return to Virginia to emancipate the women he left behind—and to confront the mysteries of his past. Coates’ imaginative spin on the Underground Railroad’s history is as audacious as Colson Whitehead’s, if less intensely realized. Coates’ narrative flourishes and magic-powered protagonist are reminiscent of his work on Marvel’s Black Panther superhero comic book, but even his most melodramatic effects are deepened by historical facts and contemporary urgency.

An almost-but-not-quite-great slavery novel.

Pub Date: Sept. 24, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-399-59059-7

Page Count: 432

Publisher: One World/Random House

Review Posted Online: July 1, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2019

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