The simple plot is merely a foundation for intriguing characters who provide the real experience.

The Strange Death of Fiona Griffiths

In Bingham’s (Love Story, With Murders, 2014, etc.) latest thriller, South Wales DC Fiona Griffiths’ third outing finds her undercover trying to expose a group committing computer fraud and leaving bodies in its wake.

A payroll scam in which a store was unknowingly making payments to nonemployees is a case for the Fraud Squad, not usually for DC Griffiths of Major Crime. But when one of those names turns out to be a woman who’s died of starvation, Fiona is determined to stop those guilty of, if nothing else, what she considers to be manslaughter. Her persistence on the case leads to the discovery of what is irrefutably murder and the ultimate realization that the embezzlement is much bigger, including fraudulent names among numerous companies. Fiona, having successfully passed a rigorous undercover training course, gets a job as a cleaner, then in payroll, both as Fiona Grey. Sure enough, she’s approached by Vic Henderson, representing a nefarious band of thieving crooks. But Fiona, who suffers from a mental illness that renders her emotionless, may be in more danger of losing herself in her new identity. The author’s story is fairly straightforward; it’s primarily a question of who—be it Vic or any of the associates Fiona eventually encounters—is the brains behind the fraud. What makes the novel an exceptional piece of work are its characters, particularly the absorbing protagonist. Even with Fiona’s first-person perspective, readers are given only a glimpse of her mindset. Fiona, for instance, recognizes the feeling of fear, but when she’s threatened by Vic, fear becomes an enhanced sensation that’s more substantial and natural in her Grey persona. Likewise, the dual identities in the story are perpetually oscillating, as a seemingly indecisive Fiona will at different times refer both to herself and Fiona Grey in the third-person—a struggle later augmented when she goes deeper undercover with yet another identity. As fascinating as Fiona is, she’s matched by her villainous counterpart. Vic’s lust for Fiona seems genuine, but he eludes police attention and remains ambiguous, a quality that’s sometimes unnerving. When Fiona asks whether he’s killed someone, he dubiously responds, “Not necessarily me.” Fiona’s narrative sears the pages with indelible assertions: “Deception is so easy, I wonder why it isn’t more common.”

The simple plot is merely a foundation for intriguing characters who provide the real experience.

Pub Date: Jan. 29, 2015


Page Count: 391

Publisher: Sheep Street Books

Review Posted Online: Jan. 21, 2015

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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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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.


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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