A satisfying tale overall, just right for the beach. Be sure to wear sunscreen.

THE FIREMAN

Pleasing mayhem from horror/thrillermeister Hill (NOS4A2, 2013, etc.), the chip-off-the-old-block son of Stephen King.

When J.K. Rowling gets it, you know things are bad. And not nicely, either: she’s gunned down by a firing squad, and “her execution had been televised on what remained of the web.” George Clooney has already burst into flames. Why? Well, Clooney was doing his humanitarian thing, and Rowling was just trying to help young people unfortunate enough to come down with a scorching case of Dragonscale, a manifestation of a very unpleasant malady caused, as the epidemiological portion of Hill’s yarn details, by a runaway spore. The worst effects of the illness make themselves known to school nurse Harper Grayson when a street person bursts into flames: “His head tipped further and further back,” Hill writes with graphic glee, “and he opened his mouth to scream and black smoke gushed out instead.” About the only positive thing that comes of this pyromaniacal display is that Glenn Beck torches, too. But then, so do thousands of innocents, causing the usual end-of-the-world scenario, as good Christians form fundamentalist posses to round up and, well, isolate anyone who shows signs of the illness. Against them are arrayed the victims, not all of whom spontaneously combust. Harper’s encounters with this horrible disease, which brings her into the orbit of a mysterious Brit called The Fireman—hero and villain all rolled up into one—are overall less trying than dealing with her nasty husband, a master of passive-aggressive put-downs. Hill shares his father’s ability to write well and sympathetically of and for women, especially the hero of the piece, Harper, who has resources and intelligence far above and beyond what the menfolk suspect. But he also shares dad’s fondness for long, long stories; heft may be a genre convention, but Hill’s narrative too often grinds to a near halt under its own weight.

A satisfying tale overall, just right for the beach. Be sure to wear sunscreen.

Pub Date: May 17, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-06-220063-1

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 11, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2016

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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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The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once...

DELIVER US FROM EVIL

In Baldacci’s 19th (True Blue, 2009, etc.), boy and girl monster-hunters meet cute.

Evan Waller, aka Fadir Kuchin, aka “the Butcher of Kiev,” aka “the Ukrainian psychopath,” is one of those deep-dyed villains a certain kind of fiction can’t do without. Serving with distinction as part of the Soviet Union’s KGB, he joyfully and indiscriminately killed thousands. Now, many years later, posing as a successful businessman, he’s vacationing in Provence where, unbeknownst to him, two separate clandestine operations are being mounted by people who do not regard him with favor. Reggie Campion—28 and gorgeous—spearheads the first, an ad hoc group of monster-hunting vigilantes. Studly, tall Shaw (no first name supplied) is point guard for a rival team, shadowy enough to leave the matter of its origin ambiguous. While their respective teams reconnoiter and jockey for position, studly boy meets gorgeous girl. Monster-hunters are famous for having trust issues, but clearly these are drawn to each other in the time-honored Hollywood fashion. Shaw saves Reggie’s life. She returns the favor. The attraction deepens and heats up to the point where team-members on both sides grow unsettled by the loss of focus, singularly inopportune since, as monsters go, Waller rises to the second coming of Caligula—ample testimony furnished by a six-page, unsparingly detailed torture scene. In the end, the stalkers strike, bullets fly, screams curdle the blood, love has its innings and a monster does what a monster’s got to do.

The characters are paper thin, the plot twists mostly telegraphed, but the betting here is that the Baldacci army will once again show the stuff it’s made of.

Pub Date: April 20, 2010

ISBN: 978-0-446-56408-3

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Avon A/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 4, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2010

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