With a keen ear for the machinations of a teacher’s mind, Watson (Asta in the Wings, 2009) deftly ratchets up the tension in...


Vera Lundy's had a little trouble letting go of her high school demons, so teaching 10th-grade English might not have been the wisest career choice.

When she was a student, Vera kept a notebook detailing all her unsavory thoughts about her classmates, particularly one: "If I could find a way to get rid of Heidi Duplessis, I would. I think first I'd duct-tape her to her car, and then I'd shave off her hair with a pair of clippers. If I could kill her and get away with it, I don't think I'd hesitate.'' Then Heidi was murdered. After one of the other girls stole Vera's notebook, Vera started getting menacing phone calls and was even roughed up, causing her to retreat into herself. Years later, Vera is working on a book about the mystery surrounding Heidi’s death; unfortunately for her, the confessed killer, Ivan Schlosser, died in prison before he could be brought to trial. Now another girl has turned up strangled. She was a student at the posh, independent all-girls school that has hired Vera as a long-term substitute. Vera finds herself drawn to Jensen Willard, her smartest student, a talented if morbid writer who thrives on Vera’s assignment to keep a journal. Intended to help the students draw personal connections to Catcher in the Rye, in Jensen’s hands the journal becomes a window into dark thoughts, indeed. One night, while walking home through the dark park, Vera stumbles upon the body of yet another student—one with whom she had recently argued. As the police investigation proceeds, Vera tries to connect the dots but only succeeds in making herself look more suspicious. And then Jensen disappears, launching Vera on a quest riddled with allusions to Holden Caulfield’s lost days in New York City. 

With a keen ear for the machinations of a teacher’s mind, Watson (Asta in the Wings, 2009) deftly ratchets up the tension in this riveting game of cat and mouse.

Pub Date: May 1, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-525-95437-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dutton

Review Posted Online: March 6, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2014

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A flabby, fervid melodrama of a high-strung Southern family from Conroy (The Great Santini, The Lords of Discipline), whose penchant for overwriting once again obscures a genuine talent. Tom Wingo is an unemployed South Carolinian football coach whose internist wife is having an affair with a pompous cardiac man. When he hears that his fierce, beautiful twin sister Savannah, a well-known New York poet, has once again attempted suicide, he escapes his present emasculation by flying north to meet Savannah's comely psychiatrist, Susan Lowenstein. Savannah, it turns out, is catatonic, and before the suicide attempt had completely assumed the identity of a dead friend—the implication being that she couldn't stand being a Wingo anymore. Susan (a shrink with a lot of time on her hands) says to Tom, "Will you stay in New York and tell me all you know?" and he does, for nearly 600 mostly-bloated pages of flashbacks depicting The Family Wingo of swampy Colleton County: a beautiful mother, a brutal shrimper father (the Great Santini alive and kicking), and Tom and Savannah's much-admired older brother, Luke. There are enough traumas here to fall an average-sized mental ward, but the biggie centers around Luke, who uses the skills learned as a Navy SEAL in Vietnam to fight a guerrilla war against the installation of a nuclear power plant in Colleton and is killed by the authorities. It's his death that precipitates the nervous breakdown that costs Tom his job, and Savannah, almost, her life. There may be a barely-glimpsed smaller novel buried in all this succotash (Tom's marriage and life as a football coach), but it's sadly overwhelmed by the book's clumsy central narrative device (flashback ad infinitum) and Conroy's pretentious prose style: ""There are no verdicts to childhood, only consequences, and the bright freight of memory. I speak now of the sun-struck, deeply lived-in days of my past.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 1986

ISBN: 0553381547

Page Count: 686

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 1986

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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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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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