A bold, largely successful launch of a series about family secrets and criminal enterprises.

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ELEMENT OF SECRECY

A woman decides to get answers to the questions that have haunted her since childhood in this debut mystery.

When Jenny O’Rourke was just 10 years old, she heard her father leading a strange chant in the barn behind their small Pennsylvania farmhouse. Not long after, her brother, Danny, was dead, and her family escaped into the night. Twenty years later, she’s in the witness protection program, living under the name Tricia Keller. She’s finally put something of a life together—after a brief career in law and a short marriage, she’s now single and works as a pharmaceutical rep—but she’s risking it all by doing the thing she’s not supposed to do: “I’m absolutely forbidden to be sitting here in front of my childhood home. But here I am with two important mysteries to solve and a shit ton of minor league ones. First, who killed my brother? And why? Second, who—and what—the hell is my father?” She knows that before he moved his family to the obscure town of Brandtville, Pennsylvania, Sean O’Rourke was one of the top defense attorneys in Manhattan, a partner at a firm well known for representing embezzlers and mob bosses. Jenny assumes this job has something to do with the murder of Danny, but there are all sorts of strange things about her childhood in Brandtville: pictures of missing mobsters in the woods, odd symbols and graffiti, and her father’s former law partner, who wound up dead in a swimming hole. To conduct her investigation, Jenny will have to elude her witness protection escorts as well as the bodyguard her father keeps on her at all times. As she digs into the past, a few things soon become clear. First, Danny is still alive. Second, the story of what really happened back in Brandtville is far stranger than Jenny could ever have imagined—and it isn’t over yet.

Slawecki keeps the plot racing forward at full speed, and her prose is taut and gripping. At one point, Jenny muses: “What’s also disturbing is this whole modern-day vigilante thing. My father was a defense attorney. He knew his clients were bad people, especially those who went to that firm. No one forced him to get into that line of work. It’s why I stopped practicing after three cases.” The plot is booby-trapped with some pretty wonderful twists that will likely take even seasoned readers of the mystery genre by surprise. The book’s primary flaw is that its characters’ psychologies and personalities do not seem to match their personal histories. Jenny comes off as more devil-may-care than haunted, and her rapport with her now-living brother (whom she hasn’t seen since they were small children) is a bit too Hollywood smooth. Even so, the tale is fun and highly readable, making great use of its woodsy Bucks County setting. This is only the first installment of a series following Jenny, and readers will be excited to find out just how much weirder things will get.

A bold, largely successful launch of a series about family secrets and criminal enterprises.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Jan. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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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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