A riotous, breathless, winking, strangely feel-good romp.

AMY AMONG THE SERIAL KILLERS

In her third book about novelist and erstwhile workshop teacher Amy Gallup, a (possibly serial!) murder falls into Amy’s lap, and violence, hijinks, and romance ensue.

It’s been several years since Amy fought off a killer writer, and she’s enjoying the peace and quiet—living with her dog and “working” every day (even when that just means staring at a blank screen). Her former pupil Carla Karolak is finding success with Inspiration Point, a writing colony of sorts. Then one day Carla finds something unexpected in one of the writing cells: a body. Soon Carla, her co-worker Tiffany, the workshop crew from Amy’s previous class, and Amy herself are awash in bodies, some of which are dismembered, some not. Enter a ridiculously smarmy “Writing Guru” and a gifted children’s author who may or may not be a mystic. The local police will only be so much help, so Carla and Amy, plus Tiffany and former workshop member Chuck, must team up to flush out the murderer and solve the case. The energetic tongue-in-cheek tone creates an interesting complement to—and veil for—the fact that this story is both gory and psychologically intense. When Amy confronts the killer at last, Willett chooses to ascribe the pronoun it to the killer, calling it “a creature” and effectively erasing any sense of humanity while dialing up the creepiness. This decision neatly symbolizes the moral that serial killers do not deserve the fame and notoriety that often help drive their actions; Amy muses that killing for sport renders one “an error of evolution.” The novel effectively refuses to excuse our own voyeuristic tendencies when it comes to serial killers, though—recognizing that it has just provided an elaborate fictional story for entertainment that centers around a brutal serial killer. What a delightfully mind-bending and complicit place to land.

A riotous, breathless, winking, strangely feel-good romp.

Pub Date: Aug. 23, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-2502-7514-1

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: June 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2022

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A mixed bag that leaves the reader hanging.

THE CABINET OF DR. LENG

Constance Greene, ageless protégé of FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast, travels back to 1880s New York—the time and place of her childhood—to save the world from the evil Dr. Enoch Leng and prevent him from killing her two siblings.

Taken off the meanest streets of New York by Leng when she was 9, Constance was given an experimental elixir by him that succeeded in dramatically slowing down her aging process. More than a century later, now under Pendergast's wing, she is only 20 in physical terms. After belatedly discovering that the essential ingredient of the elixir was taken from the spines of young women, including her older sister, she uses the time machine that appeared in Bloodless (2021) to return to old stomping grounds—where, bizarrely, she encounters her own 9-year-old self. Posing as an Eastern European aristocrat, she insinuates herself into New York society to get next to the falsely celebrated Leng—who has taken the elixir himself—with the aim of killing him. Meanwhile, desperate to protect her from harm—and prevent her from getting stuck in that alternative dimension—Pendergast has the one-use-only time machine retooled. In a largely unconnected plot, his Native American FBI colleague Armstrong Coldmoon investigates two murders connected to the theft of precious Lakota artifacts from a South Dakota reservation. Played as a straight mystery, this part of the novel is efficiently done, if not as much fun as the SF stuff, but it ultimately seems like a time-killing device for the authors. After more than 400 pages, they go the "To Be Continued" route, apologizing for the "inconclusive ending." Now they tell us.

A mixed bag that leaves the reader hanging.

Pub Date: Jan. 17, 2023

ISBN: 9781538736777

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 29, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2022

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A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

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THE MAN WHO LIVED UNDERGROUND

A falsely accused Black man goes into hiding in this masterful novella by Wright (1908-1960), finally published in full.

Written in 1941 and '42, between Wright’s classics Native Son and Black Boy, this short novel concerns Fred Daniels, a modest laborer who’s arrested by police officers and bullied into signing a false confession that he killed the residents of a house near where he was working. In a brief unsupervised moment, he escapes through a manhole and goes into hiding in a sewer. A series of allegorical, surrealistic set pieces ensues as Fred explores the nether reaches of a church, a real estate firm, and a jewelry store. Each stop is an opportunity for Wright to explore themes of hope, greed, and exploitation; the real estate firm, Wright notes, “collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in rent from poor colored folks.” But Fred’s deepening existential crisis and growing distance from society keep the scenes from feeling like potted commentaries. As he wallpapers his underground warren with cash, mocking and invalidating the currency, he registers a surrealistic but engrossing protest against divisive social norms. The novel, rejected by Wright’s publisher, has only appeared as a substantially truncated short story until now, without the opening setup and with a different ending. Wright's take on racial injustice seems to have unsettled his publisher: A note reveals that an editor found reading about Fred’s treatment by the police “unbearable.” That may explain why Wright, in an essay included here, says its focus on race is “rather muted,” emphasizing broader existential themes. Regardless, as an afterword by Wright’s grandson Malcolm attests, the story now serves as an allegory both of Wright (he moved to France, an “exile beyond the reach of Jim Crow and American bigotry”) and American life. Today, it resonates deeply as a story about race and the struggle to envision a different, better world.

A welcome literary resurrection that deserves a place alongside Wright’s best-known work.

Pub Date: April 20, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-59853-676-8

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Library of America

Review Posted Online: March 17, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2021

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