Despite thrillingly beautiful sentences, Beukes’ considerable imaginative powers seem wasted in this shallow, often ugly...

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THE SHINING GIRLS

Beukes carries her experimentation in science fiction (Moxyland, 2010) and fantasy (Zoo City, 2010) to very dark corners as she follows a time-traveling serial killer who preys on young Chicago women from the 1930s until the 1990s.

In 1974, a little girl named Kirby takes a toy pony from a strange man in his 30s named Harper. In 1931, Harper, a tramp no older or younger than in 1974, hears and follows mysterious music to a boarded-up tenement and opens the front door with a key he has found in the pocket of a coat he stole earlier that night. Inside the house, which is elegantly furnished, is a man’s dead body. On the bedroom wall are the names of girls possessing a special glow that he must extinguish (and his first victim is a young showgirl with a literal glow about her from the radium she uses in her act). Each time Harper leaves his house, he can travel in time. He marks his victims first by giving them small gifts, then returns years later to kill them. And he returns again and again to 1931. Because of his ability to travel in and out of the 60-year time frame, he avoids suspicion. But there are glitches. In 1951, the transgender showgirl he met in 1940 kills herself before he can kill her. In 1993, an artist turned crack addict has already lost her shine by the time he strikes. And Kirby, whom Harper assumes he has killed in 1989, has managed to survive. By 1993, when Harper’s pace has sped up, Kirby is a student intern for attractive, middle-aged newspaper reporter Dan, who covered the story of her attack. Tracking her assailant, Kirby begins to suspect the bizarre nature of Harper’s vicious killing spree.

Despite thrillingly beautiful sentences, Beukes’ considerable imaginative powers seem wasted in this shallow, often ugly game of cat and mouse tarted up with supernatural elements that do not bear too much scrutiny.

Pub Date: June 4, 2013

ISBN: 978-0-316-21685-2

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Mulholland Books/Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Feb. 18, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

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THE BOY FROM THE WOODS

Coben’s latest darkest-suburbs thriller sets a decidedly offbeat detective on the trail of a crime with overtones unmistakably redolent of once and future presidential elections.

Wilde is called Wilde because nobody’s known his real name from the moment a pair of hikers found him foraging for himself in Ramapo Mountain State Forest 24 years ago. Now over 40, he’s had experience as both a lost boy and a private investigator. That makes him an obvious person to help when his godson, Sweet Water High School student Matthew Crimstein, expresses concern to his grandmother, attorney Hester Crimstein, that his bullied classmate Naomi Pine has gone missing. Matthew doesn’t really want anyone to help. He doesn’t even want anyone to notice his agitation. But Hester, taking the time from her criminal defense of financial consultant Simon Greene (Run Away, 2019) to worm the details out of him, asks Wilde to lend a hand, and sure enough, Wilde, unearthing an unsavory backstory that links Naomi to bullying classmate Crash Maynard, whose TV producer father, Dash Maynard, is close friends with reality TV star–turned–presidential hopeful Rusty Eggers, finds Naomi hale and hearty. Everything’s hunky-dory for one week, and then she disappears again. And this time, so does Crash after a brief visit to Matthew in which he tearfully confesses his guilt about the bad stuff he did to Naomi. This second disappearance veers into more obviously criminal territory with the arrival of a ransom note that demands, not money, but the allegedly incriminating videotapes of Rusty Eggers that Dash and Delia Maynard have had squirreled away for 30 years. The tapes link Rusty to a forgotten and forgettable homicide and add a paranoid new ripped-from-the-headlines dimension to the author’s formidable range. Readers who can tune out all the subplots will find the kidnappers easy to spot, but Coben finds room for three climactic surprises, one of them a honey.

Now that Coben’s added politics to his heady brew, expect sex and religion to join the mix.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4814-5

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 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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