IN THE BLOOD

Another scary winner from an accomplished pro.

The Hollows is once again a poor choice for someone trying to keep a secret in this latest thriller from best-selling author Unger (Heartbroken, 2012, etc.).

This time, it’s Sacred Heart College in the upstate New York town that attracts an unhappy outsider seeking refuge. Lana Granger remains haunted by her mother’s murder; her father, still on death row for the crime, keeps trying to make contact with her. You might wonder, given Lana’s memories of her “appalling” childhood behavior and its role in the violent dysfunction of her parents’ marriage, why she would take a job baby sitting for 11-year-old Luke, who attends a nearby school for disturbed kids and is exactly the sort of manipulative, “callous-unemotional” deemed most likely to become a full-blown psychopath by experts like Lana’s psychology professor, Langdon Hewes. But Lana feels a strange bond with Luke, and Unger skillfully ratchets up the tension as we begin to realize the boy knows far more about Lana’s past than he should, while diary entries interspersed with the main narrative document horrifying behavior by a malicious child we assume is Luke. It soon becomes clear that neither Lana nor the diary entries are what they seem, and it seems frighteningly likely that our troubled protagonist had something to do with her best friend Beck’s disappearance. But Unger pulls off a bravura feat of misdirection with Lana’s guilty secret and a terrific aha! moment with the revelation of the first of several villains, each fingered with clues carefully planted throughout the text. The book’s emotional logic isn’t as impeccable as its plotting: We’re asked to believe that one dangerously unstable child can grow up and learn to love with the help of therapy and lots of meds, while another with virtually identical issues will always be a monster. Few readers will dwell on this inconsistency as they savor the pleasure of being guided by Unger’s sure hand along a deliciously twisted narrative path.

Another scary winner from an accomplished pro.

Pub Date: Jan. 7, 2014

ISBN: 978-1-4516-9117-7

Page Count: 352

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: March 30, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2013

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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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  • New York Times Bestseller

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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