Long on atmosphere, short on answers.

ARROWOOD

A troubled young woman returns home to Keokuk, Iowa, to reclaim a surprise inheritance and a tortured past in McHugh’s second literary mystery (Weight of Blood, 2015).

Arden Arrowood learns of her paternal grandfather’s legacy just as her life has hit rock bottom. Her family’s historic homestead, Arrowood, her childhood home, had been held in trust for years to keep it away from her feckless father; now he's died, and the house is hers. She leaves Colorado, master’s degree incomplete, with mysterious scars on her arm. Her mother had divorced her father to marry a megachurch pastor and now seems perfectly content wearing outfits from Chico’s and watching QVC. The house has a difficult legacy. In 1994, the Arrowoods’ toddler twin girls went missing from their front yard. Arden, then 8, had briefly left her sisters unattended and thought she saw a yellow sedan speeding off with the towhead twins in the back. Her best friend, Ben, a neighboring child, confirmed her account. A man named Harold Singer was arrested but, due to lack of evidence, was never prosecuted. But Singer’s life was destroyed, and the twins’ bodies were never found. Now, Arden reconnects with her old life, including rekindled feelings for Ben, now a dentist who’s engaged to the former high school prom queen. The kindness of Arrowood’s caretaker, Heaney, who responds to Arden’s frequent calls about leaky plumbing, is tinged with creepiness. Josh Kyle, the founder of a cold-case website called Midwest Mysteries, contacts her. Singer had an unsavory hobby of taking candid photos of young children, and one of these, obtained by Josh, shows the twins, captured in their last moments on Arrowood’s lawn—but Josh thinks the length of the shadows in the pictures might actually prove Singer's innocence. As she ponders possible scenarios, Arden is forced to confront the family dysfunction that predated the crime. Depressed because Arden’s father was having an affair with Ben’s mother, her own mother spent years in a drugged haze. Scenes are dragged out with much description of Keokuk arcana, which distracts from the crime story. The ending is inconclusive in the worst way; in other words, culpability is established—but not addressed.

Long on atmosphere, short on answers.

Pub Date: July 5, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-9639-5

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Spiegel & Grau

Review Posted Online: May 3, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2016

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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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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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