Despite its length, an engrossing tale of mystery and magic.

EYE OF THE MOON

In this debut murder mystery, a pair of friends searches for clues in the darkest recesses of the occult.

Johnny and Percy grew up as close as brothers. So when Johnny asks Percy to accompany him to his family’s luxurious estate in Rhinebeck, New York, he agrees despite some reservations. While rummaging about in the cellar, they stumble upon some personal effects that belonged to Johnny’s deceased aunt, Alice, a larger-than-life figure who died under mysterious circumstances. In response to their curiosity, Stanley, the family’s butler and once Alice’s confidant, enigmatically offers them a contract of sorts: he’ll give them Alice’s diary and tell them everything he knows about her life in exchange for a future favor left currently undetermined. In the spirit of adventure, they both accept, and Stanley regales them with a lurid tale of Alice’s fraught marriage to Lord Bromley, a sinister man rumored to have dabbled in the supernatural. He is an abusive husband—his malignancy is memorably described by Obolensky—and Alice finally conspires to escape marriage to him. The cost of her victory, she believes, is a terrible curse delivered to her by Bromley. She devotes the remainder of her days searching for a reprieve from her dark punishment, indefatigably perusing ancient artifacts and books to that purpose. Johnny and Percy want to discover if her death was the result of murder and follow her lead in summoning demons to divine the truth. Meanwhile, Percy becomes infatuated with Brunhilde von Hofmanstal, the beautiful daughter of a baron and his wife, all visiting Rhinebeck. Though his feelings for her are powerful, he also suspects her interest in him is fueled more by ulterior than romantic motives. Obolensky conjures a remarkably imaginative tale, seamlessly juxtaposing the quotidian and the magical in a way that renders the latter mesmerizingly plausible. Johnny and Percy’s headlong march into the occult world that may have destroyed Alice is shockingly inadvisable and yet seems to make sense all the same. In addition, the author has a morbid gift for the description of human turpitude that simultaneously inspires both revulsion and awe. But his writing, in particular the dialogue, is oddly genteel and strikes a decorous tone that is more suitable to the 1870s than the 1970s, the actual setting of the story. Exchanges between characters include phrases like “pray tell” and “indeedy,” which seem like the author’s approximations of the communicative ticks of the well-heeled. Nevertheless, Alice’s complex character powerfully emerges as the plot’s tonal center, a bewitching amalgam of moral strength, intellectual vitality, and a lust for life. Likewise, Stanley is far more than meets the eye, and Obolensky skillfully portrays him with literary restraint, leaving the reader to deliciously wonder if he’s truly a friend or a secret foe. The principal failing of the novel is its sprawling length (more than 500 pages). The plot unfurls at a sleepy pace, and the author promiscuously inserts narrative detours. Still, the story as a whole remains a transfixing one, ingeniously constructed.

Despite its length, an engrossing tale of mystery and magic.

Pub Date: Feb. 6, 2018

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Smith-Obolensky Media

Review Posted Online: Oct. 11, 2017

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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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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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