Literary fast food: It’s tasty enough, but it’s probably not so good for you, with or without the lumps of coal.

GRAY MOUNTAIN

“I want all the boys to sit up straight and notice, and not just my ass.” Yup, there’s a new sheriff in town, and she’s come to bring down Big Coal—and maybe strut her stuff, too.

Grisham (Sycamore Row, 2013, etc.) has long proved himself to be a trustworthy provider of  legal thrillers—formulaic, to be sure, and tossed-off, yes, but delivering the goods if you’re not too particular about the niceties of style. He is also uncommonly timely and topical. This book’s no exception: Our heroine is a bright young Ivy Leaguer newly furloughed, in the wake of the Lehman Brothers collapse, from Big Law up on Wall Street. The deal: The company might call her back in a year if she uses the time to be a do-gooder somewhere in the real world. The real world turns out to be a hardscrabble coal patch in Appalachia, where traditions count, big dogs rule and, as Grisham portentously writes, “there was no hurry in burying the dead.” Not in cold weather, anyway, and the little town where Samantha finds herself is appropriately chilly and gloomy, the kind of place where black lung disease floats in the air along with the bullets from the goon squad. The good guys are few, the bad guys many, and those baddies are busily doing bad things wherever they can: poisoning streams and wells, killing teenage girls with their big trucks, murdering folks who get in their way. Can Samantha save the day? Sure, if she can only disentangle herself from the arms of the requisite dreamboat and the tentacles of the darkly named Krull. Grisham is good as always on matters of legal procedure and local color; as one character notes, sagely, “When you sue a coal company in Appalachia you can’t always count on an unbiased jury.” Still, the reader can’t help but feel that we’ve been here before. 

Literary fast food: It’s tasty enough, but it’s probably not so good for you, with or without the lumps of coal.

Pub Date: Oct. 21, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-385-53714-8

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2014

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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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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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