A magical exercise in artful literary fiction.

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BURIAL RITES

With language flickering, sparkling and flashing like the northern lights, Kent debuts with a study of Agnes Magnúsdóttir, an Icelandic servant convicted of an 1828 murder.

The murder was horrific: two men bludgeoned, stabbed and burned. Agnes and two others were convicted, but sentences—Agnes was to be beheaded—require confirmation by Denmark’s royal government. Kent opens her powerful narrative with Agnes, underfed and unwashed, being moved from district capital imprisonment to Kornsá, a valley farmstead. Stoic, dutiful Jón and his tubercular wife, Margrét, are forced by circumstance to accept her charge. Reflecting intimate research, the story unfolds against the fearsome backdrop of 19th-century Icelandic life. It's a primitive world where subsistence farmers live in crofts—dirt-floored, turf-roofed hovels—and life unfolds in badstofa, communal living/sleeping rooms. Beautiful are Kent’s descriptions of the interminable summer light, the ever-present snow and ice and cold of winter’s gloomy darkness, the mountains, sea and valleys where sustenance is blood-rung from sheep. Assistant Rev. Thorvardur has been assigned to "direct this murderess to the way of truth and repentance," but he is more callow youth than counselor. His sessions with Agnes come and go, and he becomes enamored of Agnes and obsessed by her life’s struggles. Kent deftly reveals the mysterious relationship between Agnes, a servant girl whom valley folk believe a "[b]astard pauper with a conniving spirit," and now-dead Natan Ketilsson, a healer, some say a sorcerer, for whom she worked as a housekeeper. Kent writes movingly of Natan’s seduction of the emotionally stunted Agnes—"When the smell of him, of sulphur and crushed herbs, and horse-sweat and the smoke from his forge, made me dizzy with pleasure"—his heartless manipulation and his cruel rejection. The narrative is revealed in third person, interspersed with Agnes’ compelling first-person accounts. The saga plays out in a community sometimes revenge-minded and sometimes sympathetic, with Margrét moving from angry rejection to near love, Agnes ever stoic and fearful, before the novel reaches an inevitable, realistic and demanding culmination.

A magical exercise in artful literary fiction.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-24391-9

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: March 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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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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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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