An enthralling crime-fighting saga that focuses on the people behind the mask.

THE CRIMSON WRAITH

LEGACY OF THE HOOD

This volume chronicles the fictional history of a superhero and the motley individuals who have donned the red hood.

Twenty-three-year-old Gracie Chapel fled her abusive household as a teenager. She grows into a capable woman who squares off against violent men in Titan City. When taking down one abuser leads to legal trouble, Gracie gets help from an unlikely source—the Crimson Wraith. He’s been the city’s resident superhero for 80 years. Around 1940, William Finn first wore a red hood and white-skull mask to “defend the defenseless.” Decades passed, and a handful of people (mostly men) took on the persona as well as that of the Crimson Wraith’s sidekick, the Wily Wisp. As Gracie learns, the superhero has a sordid background; one Crimson Wraith died in costume, and another is serving a life sentence for murder. But Titan City still needs protection from the likes of Queen Cleopatra and Dr. Oblivion. Gracie has the skills and tenacity to stand up against such supervillains, and she trains at Finn Manor to further hone her combat proficiency. She also may be able to help with a murder mystery: Someone has fatally poisoned Edward Finn, William’s adopted son and former Crimson Wraith. Gracie ultimately must decide if she wants to become a superhero. It seems like an extraordinary opportunity, but the good guys don’t win every battle. Sometimes innocent lives are lost, and Gracie wonders if the fight, in the end, is worth it.

Hughes’ engrossing book comprises four previously released novellas. Gracie’s story gives the quartet cohesion as she, along with readers, gradually absorbs the Crimson Wraith’s tumultuous history. Her narrative alternates with decades of the superhero’s tales, primarily set in the ’40s through the ’80s. The titular superhero has obvious similarities to DC Comics’ Batman, who, like William Finn, is a wealthy man with a secret crime-fighting headquarters in his manor and a frequent sidekick. But Hughes wisely concentrates on the saga’s distinctive characters and their lives. One Crimson Wraith, for example, is gay during a time that practically demands he stay in the closet; he faces a betrayal when a past lover threatens to out the superhero. The book generally takes itself seriously with few instances of humor. Likewise, the author doesn’t aim the work at young readers, as characters use profanity freely. But violence doesn’t overwhelm the volume. As Hughes favors character development over action, there aren’t many face-offs with supervillains. Still, descriptions of the Crimson Wraith’s goodies at the Finn estate are a treat: “Against one wall, an empty display case…stood amid an arsenal of smoke pellets, flash bombs, grappling irons, various pieces of surveillance equipment, a nest of flying drones” that Gracie “would learn were called Haunts, and gas canisters that must have contained the ingredients of his Infernal Mist.” While the ending resolves the murder mystery, a not-yet-caught menace suggests future stories in Titan City. Each of the work’s four parts opens with the original novella’s cover boasting Moore’s superb comic-book style.

An enthralling crime-fighting saga that focuses on the people behind the mask.

Pub Date: Sept. 4, 2020

ISBN: 979-8-68-066048-5

Page Count: 411

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: April 21, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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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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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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