Sluggish in parts, this medical thriller nevertheless delivers an informative and surprising adventure.

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Analogue

A debut novel examines the repercussions of an experimental LSD therapy.

For patients in the late stages of cancer, the Wohler Psychiatric Institute in Las Vegas provides a final hope. In addition to the standard services of a hospice, the institute engages in an experimental therapy. Exploring the potential for lysergic acid diethylamide (known as LSD) to be used in psychotherapy, the facility seeks to “furnish relief to a dying individual’s final days.” While some patients react well to the therapy, others wind up with less encouraging results. Supplying the LSD to Wohler is the job of Swiss Dr. Jonas Krummen. Holding the title of “Chemistry Professor Emeritus” at a nearby university, Krummen, with the help of graduate student Garrett Wayley, synthesizes the psychoactive drug in highly controlled conditions. Responding to patients who react poorly to the therapy, Krummen proposes creating an analogue of the standard LSD-25, to be known as LSD-3Z. After Garrett finds out he has an inoperable brain tumor, he eventually receives the LSD-3Z at Wohler. Shockingly, the LSD-3Z provides more than relief; it manages to diminish his tumor. Side effects, however, are soon apparent. As Garrett’s personality changes and voices emerge in his head, the reader is told that “a dark analogue of Garrett Wayley had emerged.” Part sci-fi, part cop story (a detective named Nick Farris, who winds up pursuing Garrett, also receives the LSD-3Z at Wohler), Rohrer’s tale takes a number of twists and turns. At its best, when providing technical details, such as explaining the process for creating d-lysergic acid hydrate (“The compound is synthesized from the precursor ergotamine tartrate”), the novel weaves information neatly into the text. Somewhat less thrilling are stock characters like Nick, who is described as a “lean ex-Marine,” and Krummen, who was once a “brilliant doctoral graduate.” Slow in portions (for example, the largely unnecessary portrayal of one of Nick’s police assignments, where a clichéd lieutenant explains that the suspects are “supposedly moving smack, meth, coke and shitloads of marijuana”), the pace increases once the analogue of Garrett emerges. Though his change in personality is sudden, it creates an urgent sense of suspense, leaving a reader to wonder where it will all lead.

Sluggish in parts, this medical thriller nevertheless delivers an informative and surprising adventure.

Pub Date: Jan. 8, 2016

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 265

Publisher: Finest City Press

Review Posted Online: Oct. 31, 2016

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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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