HEARTBROKEN

Unger knows how to write a taut thriller, but one improbable character keeps this book from being extraordinary.

Unger’s latest offers a triumvirate of strong women pitted against a shared past and dangerous future.

Birdie Heart loves Heart Island more than anything else, and that includes her family. She’s tied to the island in a way that is nearly visceral; so much so that she fought her siblings to the point of estrangement to gain ownership of it when her parents died. Now, she and her husband, Joe Burke, host an annual gathering of family on the small island that is barely touched by modern conveniences. Only this year, no one really wants to go other than her grandchildren, the son and daughter of Birdie’s daughter, Kate. With her brother, Theo, bowing out, dutiful daughter Kate proceeds with plans to take the kids to the island, but last-minute complications end up with her leaving her son and husband behind and taking only daughter Chelsea and her friend, Lulu. Independent of their preparations, Emily, a waitress at the Blue Hen, waits tables and returns home to worthless boyfriend, Dean, a druggie and thief who struggles to control Emily and work as little as possible. After causing a rift between Emily and her mother, Martha, Dean and a very dangerous associate of his hatch plans to rob the Blue Hen and take Emily along for the ride. Emily, seemingly incapable of telling Dean “no,” goes along with his plans and the two are caught up in a terrible sequence of events that lead them on a collision course with Birdie and the girls. Unger is a master at building characters that crackle with personality and purpose, and the women in this novel are no exception. Birdie, unhappy with everything in her life, is particularly well-drawn, but the character of Emily remains a puzzle. Unger undoubtedly meant for Emily to come across as sympathetic. Everyone who encounters her feels inexplicably sorry for her, but in the long run, she’s an unlikable young woman who makes terrible life-altering choices.

Unger knows how to write a taut thriller, but one improbable character keeps this book from being extraordinary.

Pub Date: June 26, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-46520-7

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Crown

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2012

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DEVOLUTION

A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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