Crisp prose and a savvy protagonist accentuate a smart and unpretentious genre tale.

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DECKER

In this debut crime novel, a Korean War veteran moonlighting as a bank robber in 1950s New York mingles with vicious hoodlums, the consequence of romancing a mob boss’ ex-wife.

Former Marine Tom Decker doesn’t care for wealthy types. More specifically, the Smiths, who years ago swindled his father, crushed by the Depression, out of Decker’s Hardware. Back from the war, Decker now works for Frank Smith in the store’s paint department. He plans on buying back the family business, having accumulated a pile of cash from stickups he’s been pulling off with partner-in-crime Mitch O’Neill. Things take an unwelcome turn, however, when Irene McKenna walks into Decker’s department. They’ve already hit it off when he learns that Irene is the ex-wife of Enzo Fiori, don of a local mob family. Decker figures the easiest route is to plead his case for dating Irene to currently incarcerated Fiori. But the gangster has details of one of Decker’s recent heists and, in exchange for keeping the particulars of the thief’s criminal activities from Irene, wants part of the loot. Moreover, Fiori enlists Decker’s and O’Neill’s help for another robbery and an even bigger score. Trusting Fiori’s goons doesn’t seem feasible, and getting away intact will require a good deal of luck. Roberts’ pleasantly old-fashioned caper boasts tough-guy vernacular in dialogue and first-person narration. Decker, for example, after taking down a thug menacingly poking his chest with cigar-holding fingers, says: “You ought to be careful where you point that stogie, pal.” He’s nevertheless appealing; his reason for stealing is, at the very least, selfless (reclaim his father’s store), and he’s sweet on winsome co-worker Dottie Gibbs. Roberts further contrasts Decker with his mentor, O’Neill, a true hardened criminal; during one heist, O’Neill dons a Wolf Man mask while Decker portrays Howdy Doody. Perhaps not surprisingly, Fiori’s theft doesn’t go as planned, and Decker’s ensuing scramble is nothing short of exhilarating, including deaths and a double cross or two.

Crisp prose and a savvy protagonist accentuate a smart and unpretentious genre tale.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-945181-01-6

Page Count: 238

Publisher: Moonshine Cove Publishing

Review Posted Online: April 12, 2017

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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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