A stark and engaging tour of a menacing world.

THE BIG GUY

From the The Max series , Vol. 1

In this thriller about prison politics and power struggles, an incarcerated man tries to stay out of trouble.

Percy Croft is the second-biggest guy in Seamax Penitentiary, one of the “castles” treated with fear and reverence by the prison community. In general, castles stay out of tribal disputes; they don’t act as enforcers or fight one another. With only 16 months left to serve, Croft feels that the end of his term is in sight. But the only guy bigger than Croft has a personal vendetta against him. That would be Rook, currently held in solitary confinement. “I may have had something to do with that,” Croft admits. Rook’s getting out of the hole in three weeks, and Croft can’t stop thinking about the payback coming his way. His savior takes an unlikely form: Bread, a transfer from a state prison. Bread is well connected and becoming more influential by the day. He makes a deal with Croft. If Bread can say Croft is working with him, he’ll grease enough palms to make sure Rook doesn’t get out of solitary anytime soon. Croft takes the deal, but it comes with hidden costs. Bread’s not content with security or ease; he wants to be the prison’s drug kingpin. This puts him at odds with the current top dog and places Croft in a difficult position. Can he stay out of the internecine conflict that Bread has kicked up? Palmer’s crisp writing gives Croft a straightforward and often elegant narrative voice. Longing for freedom, Croft enumerates what he misses most: “Dark coffee…city rain sliding off a Morse jacket with a burgundy lining, snow in my headlights on a county two-lane.” At times, the author’s excellent prose betrays him: One action-packed description of an execution feels gorily indulgent. But Croft is a good companion and guide through the troubling world of Seamax. He feels that his size makes him stand out for the wrong reasons; he’s really just a guy with “antique notions.” Bread is a well-constructed villain, a ruthless scheme-weaver whose boldness strikes fear in the hearts of his adversaries, including Croft.

A stark and engaging tour of a menacing world.

Pub Date: Nov. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-73407-801-5

Page Count: 301

Publisher: JPF

Review Posted Online: Oct. 14, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2020

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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 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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