Despite its lack of believable characters and events, this slim, nasty thriller is hard to put down.

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THE HAND THAT FEEDS YOU

A student of forensic psychology finds her fiance mauled to death. Did her dogs do it?

Morgan Prager gets home from a lecture at John Jay College of Criminal Justice to find her apartment covered in blood and her three dogs frantic. In the bedroom, a body has been mutilated so badly she isn't sure at first that it's her fiance, Bennett. The police arrive, shoot one dog, take the others into custody, and send Morgan to Bellevue. In a few days she will reveal to her psychiatrist that she met Bennett when he responded to a profile she set up on a dating site to test a theory she has about women who are victims of sexual predators. Then he turned out to be perfect for her. After she gets out of the hospital, she tries to mail a condolence letter to Bennett's parents, at which point it turns out everything she knows about the guy, including his name, is a lie. Two other fiancees, one of them recently murdered, an ex-wife, and other nasty surprises await as Morgan attempts to unravel the truth. At the same time, she's working with a pretty hot animal advocacy lawyer named Mackenzie to defend her dogs, who face execution. This pseudonymous debut is a collaboration between Amy Hempel and Jill Ciment, gifted novelists whose failure to breathe life into their heroine is perplexing. The quirks and attitudes, sexual history and behavior, dead best friend, lawyer brother, and oddly cold voice they have invented for her never alchemize into what feels a real person. Some details, like the fact that her psychiatrist used to be a backup singer for Lou Reed, almost feel like they came from another book. On the other hand, the information presented about sociopaths, psychopaths, victims, and dogs, particularly dogs in trouble, is extremely interesting.

Despite its lack of believable characters and events, this slim, nasty thriller is hard to put down.

Pub Date: July 7, 2015

ISBN: 978-1-4767-7458-9

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: April 1, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2015

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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