A delightfully peculiar, intricate, and engaging mystery.

NINETY-FIVE

A college freshman stumbles on a dark web-rooted conspiracy in this thriller.

University of Chicago student Zak Skinner is failing engineering school—again. He transferred from New York University mere months ago for that same reason. Understandably distraught, Zak runs into David Wade, a floor mate from his dorm, and winds up voluntarily drinking a hallucinogenic concoction. By the time Zak comes to, things have turned noticeably weird. David has seemingly disappeared, and Zak has a simple store receipt with hidden numbers and, perhaps, a secret message. It may all be part of a scam, as someone has been supposedly drugging impressionable freshmen who will believe anything anyone tells them. But that doesn’t explain the thugs who capture Zak and his best friend/roommate, Pat Riley, giving them 24 hours to hand over the receipt. Deciphering the significance of that piece of paper takes Zak deep into a conspiracy linked to a darknet website and billions in American dollars. But answers aren’t easy to come by, as the receipt’s apparent code isn’t clear, and people evade Zak’s myriad questions. Time may be running out, as he’s fairly certain someone is trying to kill him. Towles’ taut novel moves at a steady clip, as the protagonist encounters a variety of odd characters both on and off campus. Regarding the plot, readers may be just as confused as Zak; it’s often cryptic and features someone promising to protect Zak from “villains you can’t see.” But it’s undoubtedly suspenseful, with dubious characters aplenty who occasionally threaten or assault Zak. They’re not all bad; Riley makes a superb sidekick who also finds trouble (mostly by association), and Zak dabbles in some effectively understated romance. While there’s definitely a resolution, along with an enlightening glimpse at the hero’s past, the ending implies that a sequel may be forthcoming.

A delightfully peculiar, intricate, and engaging mystery.

Pub Date: Nov. 24, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-64456-334-2

Page Count: 242

Publisher: Indies United Publishing House

Review Posted Online: July 14, 2021

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Dirk Cussler carries on what his father started in a series that never gets old.

CLIVE CUSSLER'S THE DEVIL'S SEA

In the 26th of the lively Dirk Pitt Adventures, the family finds trouble on the high seas and in the high mountains.

Trouble comes looking for Dirk Pitt and his children, Dirk and Summer, in the strangest and most entertaining ways. (Mom is in Congress and misses all the fun.) Fans know that the elder Pitt is Director of NUMA, the National Underwater and Marine Agency, and that he’s not one to “sail a desk.” So they’re in the seas near the Philippines on a research project when they come across a sunken ship and the remnants of a Chinese rocket. The Chinese are upset that their secret Mach-25 rocket has failed once again. Then the area begins to get hit with unexplained tsunamis while Dirk Senior and his colleague Al Giordino explore the depths in Stingray, their submersible. The plot splits off when Dad asks son and daughter to fly to Taiwan to return a large stone antiquity they find in an aircraft that had disappeared in 1963. A Taiwanese museum official recognized it as the Nechung Idol from Tibet, so the siblings head to northern India. Dad rescues a woman from drowning and gets embroiled in a nasty conflict involving her father, a hijacked ship, and guys with guns and nefarious intentions. Meanwhile, young Dirk and Summer wind up in the Himalayas as they try to take the precious stone to the Dalai Lama. There, they try not to get themselves killed by bullets or hypothermia as they stay a step ahead of more villains who want the idol. The Pitts are all great characters—clever, gutsy, and lucky. When he and Giordino find themselves in a heck of a pickle in an area called The Devil’s Sea, Dad Pitt declares a great American truism: “Nothing’s impossible with a little duct tape.” And everything sticks together in the end—the tsunamis, the rocket, the idol. As with all the Dirk Pitt yarns, the action is fast and over-the-top, and the violence is only what’s needed to advance the story.

Dirk Cussler carries on what his father started in a series that never gets old.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-593-41964-9

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2021

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Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

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BILLY SUMMERS

The ever prolific King moves from his trademark horror into the realm of the hard-boiled noir thriller.

“He’s not a normal person. He’s a hired assassin, and if he doesn’t think like who and what he is, he’ll never get clear.” So writes King of his title character, whom the Las Vegas mob has brought in to rub out another hired gun who’s been caught and is likely to talk. Billy, who goes by several names, is a complex man, a Marine veteran of the Iraq War who’s seen friends blown to pieces; he’s perhaps numbed by PTSD, but he’s goal-oriented. He’s also a reader—Zola’s novel Thérèse Raquin figures as a MacGuffin—which sets his employer’s wheels spinning: If a reader, then why not have him pretend he’s a writer while he’s waiting for the perfect moment to make his hit? It wouldn’t be the first writer, real or imagined, King has pressed into service, and if Billy is no Jack Torrance, there’s a lovely, subtle hint of the Overlook Hotel and its spectral occupants at the end of the yarn. It’s no spoiler to say that whereas Billy carries out the hit with grim precision, things go squirrelly, complicated by his rescue of a young woman—Alice—after she’s been roofied and raped. Billy’s revenge on her behalf is less than sweet. As a memoir grows in his laptop, Billy becomes more confident as a writer: “He doesn’t know what anyone else might think, but Billy thinks it’s good,” King writes of one day’s output. “And good that it’s awful, because awful is sometimes the truth. He guesses he really is a writer now, because that’s a writer’s thought.” Billy’s art becomes life as Alice begins to take an increasingly important part in it, crisscrossing the country with him to carry out a final hit on an errant bad guy: “He flopped back on the sofa, kicked once, and fell on the floor. His days of raping children and murdering sons and God knew what else were over.” That story within a story has a nice twist, and Billy’s battered copy of Zola’s book plays a part, too.

Murder most foul and mayhem most entertaining. Another worthy page-turner from a protean master.

Pub Date: Aug. 3, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-982173-61-6

Page Count: 528

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: June 2, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 2021

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