A collection that’s deeply unsettling—in the best way.

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THE EGG

Short fiction from Rex (Svengali, 2017, etc.) that asks the question “Did the devil make the world while God was resting?”

This collection of six stories draws on true-crime tales and obscure historical relics to immerse readers in the morbid and the absurd. Some works boast an eerie, Edgar Allen Poe–like tone, such as “But the Cat Came Back,” the story of a writer whose pet feline rises from the dead to haunt him. Others live in the realm of psychological thriller, such as “Schisma,” in which a deranged ex-boyfriend takes drastic measures to level vengeance against a woman who cheated on him. Where Rex truly shines are in his portraits of 20th-century New Orleans as a world of jazz, booze, and hedonism. In “The Mistick Krewe of Satyr,” an amateur detective lifts the veil on an illicit cult after attending a masquerade ball that devolves into a disturbing pagan ritual (“I followed the surreal Victorian sounds of plucked strings into a drawing room to find a nude woman playing a spinet for a fat rabbit busy stroking her golden tresses”). The author’s interpretation of a night in the life of the Axeman of New Orleans, a real-life serial killer who claimed several victims in the 1910s, is another gem. The narration alternates between witnesses to evil and its perpetrators, sometimes effectively calling attention to the fine line between the two; for instance, the closing story, “Svengali,” follows an FBI agent whose investigation into a child-pornography ring causes him to question his own behavior. Although some tales offer surprise twists, others foreshadow their endings, but both methods work equally as well. In “Requiem for Pancho,” for instance, a fading opera singer’s plot to murder his new rival is revealed in the first pages, allowing for dramatic irony to build. The consistent, hard-boiled noir tone does become a bit tedious at times, but overall, this set of tales stands strong.

A collection that’s deeply unsettling—in the best way.

Pub Date: March 15, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 187

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: April 13, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2017

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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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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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