Two sharp, distinctive, and complementary clusters of stories.

BLOOD BUSINESS

CRIME STORIES FROM THIS WORLD AND BEYOND

Editors Acevedo (University of Doom, 2017, etc.) and Viola (Blackstar, 2015, etc.) offer an anthology of noirish tales exploring the dark recesses of both real and supernatural worlds.

In Mark Stevens’ “Bone on Wood,” a preacher who makes house calls to parishioners is revealed as someone who may not be the best man to lead his congregation. Seedy characters populate the collection’s first half, and they’re often depicted as overtly unsavory. One example is the shiftless, drug-dealing Roach in Paul Goat Allen’s “Slug,” who wallows in his excesses. But although these tales are steeped in the gloomy shadows of noir, the anthology’s second half consists of otherworldly stories that often playfully twist the genre’s trademarks. Conventional private eye protagonists, for example, take on rather unconventional cases. In Alyssa Wong’s “A Clamor of Bones,” private investigator An Mei, who can speak to the deceased, needs help from a dead man who’s in pieces, while Devin in Betsy Dornbusch’s “A Rose by Any Other Name” searches for a thief of magic. Patrick Berry’s gleefully bizarre “Divided They Fall” is set in the world of mathematics (with characters named after numbers, gathering at a bar called The Denominator), but its base plot is about a gumshoe hunting a murderer. Throughout, the tales feature catchy dialogue: in Gary Jonas’ “An Officer and a Hitman,” Jenny, back from shopping, tells her killer boyfriend, “I got us some bullets and burritos”; and apparently immortal Pagey professes, “I gotta say, Juma, I’m feeling pretty damn good for a guy who got his brains blown out today” in Viola’s “Outsorcery.” Alvaro Zinos-Amaro’s somber “Morphing” goes in a grimmer, more surreal direction as it follows Cadmus, who’s simply trying to eliminate his rodent problem by using scores of ball pythons, and then his senses gradually disappear. Sean Eads closes the book with “The Ash of the Phoenix,” a poignant memorial to the late Edward Bryant, whose stories open both sections and to whom the book is dedicated.

Two sharp, distinctive, and complementary clusters of stories.

Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2017

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 167

Publisher: Hex Publishers

Review Posted Online: Sept. 26, 2017

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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