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THE BULLET TRICK

An eerie but underfed whodunit.

In the sleazier corners of Berlin, London and Glasgow, a down-on-his-luck magician sorts out two killings—and his obsession with a femme fatale—in Welsh’s follow-up to her debut, The Cutting Room (2003).

William Wilson is the kind of crowd-pleasing conjurist who made his career performing well-worn stunts like sawing ladies in half and reading the minds of club patrons whose wallets he’s filched. Which is to say he’s an old-school hack in low demand. So when his agent assigns him to perform at a miserable London bordello for the retirement party of a police honcho, he doesn’t have much reason to say no. But as in any self-respecting noir, Wilson’s in a heap of trouble practically the second he walks through the door; the owner of the bar and his lover, an old acquaintance of Wilson’s, have some mysterious documents they’d like Wilson to hang on to, and Wilson later learns that the two died at the end of that evening in a murder-suicide. Or was it a double murder? Realizing those documents make him a hunted man, Wilson shoves off for Berlin, where he puts together a bawdy, Grand Guignol–style cabaret act with the help of a dancer named Sylvie—whose inscrutable Marlene Dietrich chilliness naturally drives Wilson wild. Shifting between Wilson’s Berlin adventure and his return to Glasgow to solve the crimes, the book requires the reader to keep up with a lot of different plot threads, but the characterizations are often too thin to inspire the effort. A B-list magician is a brilliant idea for an accidental gumshoe—there’s a cheapness to Wilson’s parlor tricks and deceptions that meshes perfectly with the cynical worldview of great noir. But the dialogue here doesn’t have the tough-talking snap that defines the genre, and flabby, exposition-heavy chapters don’t help either. James M. Cain and Raymond Chandler produced plots that were just as convoluted and overheated as this one—but they also knew the value of concision.

An eerie but underfed whodunit.

Pub Date: Aug. 10, 2006

ISBN: 1-84195-794-1

Page Count: 309

Publisher: Canongate

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15, 2006

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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

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THE SILENT PATIENT

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

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A woman accused of shooting her husband six times in the face refuses to speak.

"Alicia Berenson was thirty-three years old when she killed her husband. They had been married for seven years. They were both artists—Alicia was a painter, and Gabriel was a well-known fashion photographer." Michaelides' debut is narrated in the voice of psychotherapist Theo Faber, who applies for a job at the institution where Alicia is incarcerated because he's fascinated with her case and believes he will be able to get her to talk. The narration of the increasingly unrealistic events that follow is interwoven with excerpts from Alicia's diary. Ah, yes, the old interwoven diary trick. When you read Alicia's diary you'll conclude the woman could well have been a novelist instead of a painter because it contains page after page of detailed dialogue, scenes, and conversations quite unlike those in any journal you've ever seen. " 'What's the matter?' 'I can't talk about it on the phone, I need to see you.' 'It's just—I'm not sure I can make it up to Cambridge at the minute.' 'I'll come to you. This afternoon. Okay?' Something in Paul's voice made me agree without thinking about it. He sounded desperate. 'Okay. Are you sure you can't tell me about it now?' 'I'll see you later.' Paul hung up." Wouldn't all this appear in a diary as "Paul wouldn't tell me what was wrong"? An even more improbable entry is the one that pins the tail on the killer. While much of the book is clumsy, contrived, and silly, it is while reading passages of the diary that one may actually find oneself laughing out loud.

Amateurish, with a twist savvy readers will see coming from a mile away.

Pub Date: Feb. 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-250-30169-7

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Celadon Books

Review Posted Online: Nov. 3, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2018

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