A disturbing, eerily timed novel but no page-turner.

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THE END OF OCTOBER

As a lethal virus of unknown origin ravages huge swaths of the planet, legendary American disease fighter Henry Parsons heads up increasingly hopeless attempts to control it.

The easily transmitted disease, which literally turns its victims blue, is first detected in a refugee camp in Indonesia, "hothouse of diseases." Sent there by the World Health Organization, Parsons quickly recognizes the dangers at hand but not quickly enough to prevent his infected local driver from leaving the camp to join some 3 million worshipers on the annual hajj. When attempts at quarantines in Mecca fail and the infected pilgrims return home, they carry the disease all over the globe. In light of the relatively few disease-related deaths in Russia, suspicions arise that the virus was bioengineered by Putin. The Russian leader, of course, blames America, where cities and institutions begin crumbling. After blood drips from the eyes of the president, midspeech, and the vice president is infected, the ill-prepared government is driven into an underground facility in Virginia. (CNN's Anderson Cooper apparently perishes but not Wolf Blitzer, who still commands The Situation Room.) Featuring accounts of past plagues and pandemics, descriptions of pathogens and how they work, and dark notes about global warming, the book produces deep shudders. Wright, author of acclaimed nonfiction such as The Looming Tower (2006), about the Sept. 11 attacks, knows his way around geopolitical terror, but he's less successful as a thriller writer, upstaged here by the recent, real-life coronavirus. There is little true suspense in the novel, which sketches in its nightmarish scenarios rather than dramatizing them. Even a suicide bombing has marginal impact. Ultimately, the book gets caught up in family drama, sentimentality, and end-of-the-world moralizing. An atheist since his missionary parents were killed in an air crash, Parsons rediscovers religion.

A disturbing, eerily timed novel but no page-turner.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65865-8

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 2, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2020

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Grisham fans will be pleased, graphic details of evil behavior and all.

A TIME FOR MERCY

A small-town Mississippi courtroom becomes the setting for a trademark Grisham legal tussle.

Stuart Kofer is not a nice guy. He drinks way too much and likes to brawl. One night, coming home in a foul mood with a blood alcohol count more than triple the legal limit, he breaks his live-in girlfriend’s jaw. He’s done terrible things to her children, too—and now her 16-year-old boy, Drew, puts an end to the terror. Unfortunately for the kid in a place where uniforms are worshipped, Stu was a well-liked cop. “Did it really matter if he was sixteen or sixty? It certainly didn’t matter to Stu Kofer, whose stock seemed to rise by the hour,” writes Grisham of local opinion about giving Drew the benefit of the doubt. Jake Brigance, the hero of the tale, is a lawyer who’s down to his last dime until a fat wrongful-death case is settled. It doesn’t help his bank book when the meaningfully named Judge Omar Noose orders him to defend the kid. Backed by a brilliant paralegal whose dream is to be the first Black female lawyer in the county, he prepares for what the local sheriff correctly portends will be “an ugly trial” that may well land Drew on death row. As ever, Grisham capably covers the mores of his native turf, from gun racks to the casual use of the N-word. As well, he examines Bible Belt attitudes toward abortion and capital punishment as well as the inner workings of the courtroom, such as jury selection: “What will your jury look like?” asks a trial consultant, to which Jake replies, “A regular posse. It’s rural north Mississippi, and I’ll try to change venue to another county simply because of the notoriety.” The story runs on a touch long, as Grisham yarns tend to do, and it gets a bit gory at times, but the level of tension is satisfyingly high all the way to the oddly inconclusive end.

Grisham fans will be pleased, graphic details of evil behavior and all.

Pub Date: Oct. 13, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-385-54596-9

Page Count: 480

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2020

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

Another sweltering month in Charlotte, another boatload of mysteries past and present for overworked, overstressed forensic anthropologist Temperance Brennan.

A week after the night she chases but fails to catch a mysterious trespasser outside her town house, some unknown party texts Tempe four images of a corpse that looks as if it’s been chewed by wild hogs, because it has been. Showboat Medical Examiner Margot Heavner makes it clear that, breaking with her department’s earlier practice (The Bone Collection, 2016, etc.), she has no intention of calling in Tempe as a consultant and promptly identifies the faceless body herself as that of a young Asian man. Nettled by several errors in Heavner’s analysis, and even more by her willingness to share the gory details at a press conference, Tempe launches her own investigation, which is not so much off the books as against the books. Heavner isn’t exactly mollified when Tempe, aided by retired police detective Skinny Slidell and a host of experts, puts a name to the dead man. But the hints of other crimes Tempe’s identification uncovers, particularly crimes against children, spur her on to redouble her efforts despite the new M.E.’s splenetic outbursts. Before he died, it seems, Felix Vodyanov was linked to a passenger ferry that sank in 1994, an even earlier U.S. government project to research biological agents that could control human behavior, the hinky spiritual retreat Sparkling Waters, the dark web site DeepUnder, and the disappearances of at least four schoolchildren, two of whom have also turned up dead. And why on earth was Vodyanov carrying Tempe’s own contact information? The mounting evidence of ever more and ever worse skulduggery will pull Tempe deeper and deeper down what even she sees as a rabbit hole before she confronts a ringleader implicated in “Drugs. Fraud. Breaking and entering. Arson. Kidnapping. How does attempted murder sound?”

Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

Pub Date: March 17, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9821-3888-2

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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