A dour but absorbing story about avaricious and disreputable characters.

BRUTUS NATION 2

HAMMER OF THE HOGS

A reformed convict aids law enforcement in a world teeming with corruption and moral ambiguity in Kyzer’s grim sequel to Brutus Nation (2016).

Kerry Douglas won’t have to serve the remaining four years of his prison stint thanks to the Athenian Union Interior Ministry, which has allowed him to join the United Vigilance. As part of this law enforcement group, he has free rein to make a “comprehensive strike against the criminal element.” He goes after the people who supply Athenia City’s citizens with the illegal drug NRG. Some unscrupulous types in his organization, however, have ensured that some NRG pills are coated with a lethal substance; this makes selling them a more serious crime, which allows law enforcement to hit drug pushers even harder. Elsewhere in the city, an owner of the professional sports team the Athenia City Grunting Hogs has a mysterious scheme underway involving the team’s co-owner, a drug lord who’s attempting to go legit. In addition, a local bookie chain is letting gamblers bet with home equity; those who lose too often also lose their houses. This particular venture, by the story’s end, links several characters’ stories together. Although Kerry’s battle against NRG ultimately turns explosive, Kyzer’s novel centers more on noir style than action. The narrative shifts through an impressive number of dubious characters, from a lawyer who works for a seasoned criminal to a couple of gambler friends roped in by the bookie chain. The author primarily establishes the cast members through dialogue—crisp exchanges packed with slang, offensive jabs, and humor, including numerous references to caffeinated energy drinks. There are a few scenes with multiple characters that are confusing and hard to follow due to the author’s minimal use of dialogue tags. The final act is somewhat predictable, but it resolves multiple subplots in a way that’s both satirical and convincing.

A dour but absorbing story about avaricious and disreputable characters.

Pub Date: Oct. 27, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5255-8082-6

Page Count: 174

Publisher: FriesenPress

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2021

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Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

THE LIONESS

An actress and her entourage are kidnapped by Russians in Bohjalian’s uneven thriller.

In 1964, Hollywood’s gossip rags are agog as movie star Katie Barstow marries gallerist David Hill and takes her inner circle along on her honeymoon. And an adventuresome honeymoon it is—on safari in the Serengeti with aging big-game hunter Charlie Patton, who once helped Hemingway bag trophies. But Katie is not the star of this ensemble piece. The populous cast—a who’s who at the beginning is indispensable—includes Katie’s publicist, Reggie Stout; her agent, Peter Merrick; her best friend, Carmen Tedesco, a supporting actress who plays wisecracking sidekicks; and Terrance Dutton, Katie's recent co-star, a Black actor who's challenging Sidney Poitier's singularity in Hollywood. With obvious nods to Hemingway’s worst fear—masculine cowardice—Bohjalian adds in Felix Demeter, Carmen’s husband, a B-list screenwriter who reminds his wife of Hemingway’s weakling Francis Macomber. Felix seems a superfluous double of David, who feels inadequate because Katie is the breadwinner and his father is CIA. Then there’s Katie’s older brother, Billy Stepanov, whose abuse at the hands of their mother shaped the psychologist he is today; Billy’s pregnant wife, Margie; and Benjamin Kikwete, an apprentice safari guide. Thus, a proliferation of voices whose competing perspectives fragment rather than advance the story. The kidnapping plot seems less designed to test each character’s mettle than to exercise Bohjalian’s predilection for minute descriptions of gore. The most heartfelt portrayal here is of the Serengeti and its flora and fauna, but none of the human characters net enough face time to transcend their typecasting. The motives behind the kidnapping might have lent intrigue to the proceedings, but foreshadowing is so slight that the infodump explainer at the end leaves us shocked, mostly at how haphazard the plot is.

Perhaps A-list screenwriters will be able to spin TV gold from this sketchy treatment.

Pub Date: May 10, 2022

ISBN: 978-0-385-54482-5

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Feb. 9, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

SLEEPLESS

In present-day Germany, a woman burdened with the darkest of secrets from her brutal childhood becomes an unwitting participant in a fatal game of murder and deceit.

“You become normal by doing normal things,” Nadja Kulka’s therapist tells her, and for the most part the technique has worked. Nadja has a good job in the office of one of Berlin’s most successful lawyers and a secure if barren personal life. “I’m the woman who sits at the open window of her kitchen when she sees that her neighbour has friends over again on a Saturday night,” she explains. Social gatherings cause Nadja acute anxiety, and when the novel opens, she is in the grip of a panic attack that causes her to faint at a gas station and then to flee back onto the motorway, fearing that onlookers may have called the police. But why? And why is she wearing a blond wig? In this feverish, relentlessly tense novel, the answers to those and many other questions lie tangentially in Nadja’s past—to which the narrative cyclically returns—but more immediately in a sudden act of violence into which she is cruelly drawn. As dastardly events unfold, we are kept on edge not only by the author’s initially skillful evocation of Nadja’s troubled consciousness, but also by the novel’s restless shuttling between past and present. The eventual cinching together of near and distant events is clumsily handled, however, and the denouement utterly overwrought. A parallel plot involves the yearnings of a young woman who longs to escape her hometown backwater, embarks on an affair with a married visitor to her family’s inn, and pays a terrible price for her longings. Rather than enriching the novel, however, this drama, though potentially engrossing, seems more like a distraction.

A superficially gripping but psychologically unconvincing thriller.

Pub Date: Oct. 5, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-250-82479-0

Page Count: 336

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2021

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