A fast-paced and exciting work of crime fiction.

VERDICT DENIED

After a drug cartel abducts his sister, a Kansas judge puts everything on the line to find her in this debut thriller.

In 2018, when Judge Benjamin Joel begins the murder trial of Vaughn Rummell, he doesn’t know that his own life is about to change drastically. The accused is a grandson of a drug kingpin, and his conviction seems certain despite the fact that he has a team of high-powered lawyers on his side. Then a group of masked, armed men abduct Benjamin, his sister, his children, and his fiancee, Keri. After an intense fight that leaves several cartel operatives dead, Benjamin reaches an agreement with the kidnappers: They’ll free everyone except for the judge’s sister, who will only be let go after he dismisses the case against Rummell. But before the verdict can be handed down, Benjamin embarks on a mission to locate and free his sibling on his own. With Keri’s assistance, he steals files from a local detective and tracks down multiple cartel members, locating safe houses, money, and drugs while untangling a web of allies and enemies. Ruhl’s action-packed thriller effectively keeps readers engaged as the characters travel through a messy world of organized crime. The narrative keeps up a swift pace, as in this passage, after Benjamin manages to shoot one of his abductors: “He had some fight left in him, it seemed, which wasn’t all bad. I didn’t want him to die, I wanted to get information out of him. But dammit—I was running out of time.” The excitement rarely wanes, though the narrator does veer into long-winded tangents about court procedure at times, and it’s sometimes difficult to keep up with who’s who in the ever expanding cast. Still, readers will enjoy how the judge unearths secrets and makes connections, and the ending is satisfying.

A fast-paced and exciting work of crime fiction.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2021

ISBN: 979-8481908014

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Independently Published

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2022

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Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

HELL BENT

From the Alex Stern series , Vol. 2

A Yale sophomore fights for her life as she balances academics with supernatural extracurriculars in this smart fantasy thriller, the second in a series.

Galaxy “Alex” Stern is a member of Lethe House, the ninth of Yale’s secret societies. And not just any member—she’s Virgil, the officer who conducts the society's rituals. In the world of Bardugo’s Alex Stern series, Yale’s secret societies command not just powerful social networks, but actual magic; it’s Lethe’s job to keep that magic in control. Alex is new to the role. She had to take over in a hurry after the previous Virgil, Darlington, her mentor and love interest, disappeared in a cliffhanger at the end of the first book. He appears to be in hell, but is he stuck there for good? Alex and Pamela Dawes—Lethe’s Oculus, or archivist/administrator—have found a reference to a pathway called a Gauntlet that can open a portal to hell, but can they find the Gauntlet itself? And what about the four murderers the Gauntlet ritual requires? Meanwhile, Alex’s past as a small-time drug dealer is catching up with her, adding gritty street crime to the demonic white-collar evil the Yale crowd tends to prefer. The plot is relentless and clever, and the writing is vivid, intelligent, and funny at just the right moments, but best of all are the complex characters, such as the four murderers, each with a backstory that makes it possible for the reader to trust them to enter hell and have the strength to leave again. Like the first book, this one ends with a cliffhanger.

Well-drawn characters introduce the criminal underworld to the occult kind in a breathless and compelling plot.

Pub Date: Jan. 10, 2023

ISBN: 978-1-250-31310-2

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Flatiron Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 16, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 1, 2022

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A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

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FAIRY TALE

Narnia on the Penobscot: a grand, and naturally strange, entertainment from the ever prolific King.

What’s a person to do when sheltering from Covid? In King’s case, write something to entertain himself while reflecting on what was going on in the world outside—ravaged cities, contentious politics, uncertainty. King’s yarn begins in a world that’s recognizably ours, and with a familiar trope: A young woman, out to buy fried chicken, is mashed by a runaway plumber’s van, sending her husband into an alcoholic tailspin and her son into a preadolescent funk, driven “bugfuck” by a father who “was always trying to apologize.” The son makes good by rescuing an elderly neighbor who’s fallen off a ladder, though he protests that the man’s equally elderly German shepherd, Radar, was the true hero. Whatever the case, Mr. Bowditch has an improbable trove of gold in his Bates Motel of a home, and its origin seems to lie in a shed behind the house, one that Mr. Bowditch warns the boy away from: “ ‘Don’t go in there,’ he said. ‘You may in time, but for now don’t even think of it.’ ” It’s not Pennywise who awaits in the underworld behind the shed door, but there’s plenty that’s weird and unexpected, including a woman, Dora, whose “skin was slate gray and her face was cruelly deformed,” and a whole bunch of people—well, sort of people, anyway—who’d like nothing better than to bring their special brand of evil up to our world’s surface. King’s young protagonist, Charlie Reade, is resourceful beyond his years, but it helps that the old dog gains some of its youthful vigor in the depths below. King delivers a more or less traditional fable that includes a knowing nod: “I think I know what you want,” Charlie tells the reader, "and now you have it”—namely, a happy ending but with a suitably sardonic wink.

A tale that’s at once familiar and full of odd and unexpected twists—vintage King, in other words.

Pub Date: Sept. 6, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-66800-217-9

Page Count: 608

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 22, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2022

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