An engrossing bitter harvest of future bad times that opens a post-apocalyptic trilogy.

THE SCREAM OF AN EAGLE

From the Thermals of Time series , Vol. 1

A son of wealth and privilege remains shielded from the economic collapse of the United States in the 2030s until political upheaval and disaster tear the country apart.

Dean begins a Thermals of Time trilogy that bids to be early in what will doubtless be much speculative fiction referencing the COVID-19 pandemic. Killer flu is but one of the scourges he unloads on near-future characters after financial markets collapse in what is known as “the Catastrophe.” By the 2030s, the downward spiral of climate change and wealth inequality has left millions in America homeless and starving in an authoritarian country beset by storms, drought, and disease, though rich elites still cling to security at the top. Colorado College student James Mendez is the son of legendary Robert Mendez, a self-made billionaire who knew poverty and acquired financial success for the sake of power. James prefers his gentle mother’s side of the family: hardworking Colorado ranchers. He falls in love with Anna, a homestead-girl-next-door type, instead of one of the Washington, D.C.–connected women his father prefers. Robert forces his son to stay in college with a threat to ruin the farm household of James’ beloved grandfather via the Mendez control of a government-backed big agriculture business. Meanwhile, life outside the lying-news-media bubble just gets worse. A combination of a natural disaster and a violent uprising within the U.S. military ultimately expels James into the blighted streets outside Colorado Springs, where he realizes just how bad things really are as he joins columns of fever-ridden, emaciated refugees. The author drops references to Stephen King’s The Stand and Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove as forebears, but those were thick, detailed novels. Dean’s own narrative is lean and fast-paced—not as stripped down to essentials as Cormac McCarthy’s doomsday classic, The Road, but enough to keep pages turning. No excessive exposition goes, for example, to the attempted coup that finally destroys the sorry U.S. infrastructure (though indications are the plotters were no better than the rotten system they overthrew). Things just get sadder for James until the cliffhanger leading into the sequel. The protagonist is a young guy cut off from all options who doesn’t so much act as react. This is actually somewhat refreshingly realistic as opposed to the hard-charging survivalist type prevalent in “prepper” fiction.

An engrossing bitter harvest of future bad times that opens a post-apocalyptic trilogy. (author bio)

Pub Date: March 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-73467-460-6

Page Count: 264

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: May 29, 2020

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A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

BEAUTIFUL WORLD, WHERE ARE YOU

Two erudite Irishwomen struggle with romance against the backdrop of the Trump/Brexit years.

Eileen and Alice have been friends since their university days. Now in their late 20s, Eileen works as an editorial assistant at a literary magazine in Dublin. Alice is a famous novelist recovering from a psychiatric hospitalization and staying in a large empty rectory on the west coast of Ireland. Since Alice’s breakdown, the two have kept in touch primarily through lengthy emails that alternate between recounting their romantic lives and working through their angst about the current social and political climate. (In one of these letters, Eileen laments that the introduction of plastic has ruined humanity’s aesthetic calibration and in the next paragraph, she’s eager to know if Alice is sleeping with the new man she’s met.) Eileen has spent many years entangled in an occasionally intimate friendship with her teenage crush, a slightly older man named Simon who is a devout Catholic and who works in the Irish Parliament as an assistant. As Eileen and Simon’s relationship becomes more complicated, Alice meets Felix, a warehouse worker who is unsure what to make of her fame and aloofness. In many ways, this book, a work of both philosophy and romantic tragicomedy about the ways people love and hurt one another, is exactly the type of book one would expect Rooney to write out of the political environment of the past few years. But just because the novel is so characteristic of Rooney doesn’t take anything away from its considerable power. As Alice herself puts it, “Humanity on the cusp of extinction [and] here I am writing another email about sex and friendship. What else is there to live for?”

A novel of capacious intelligence and plenty of page-turning emotional drama.

Pub Date: Sept. 7, 2021

ISBN: 978-0-374-60260-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: June 16, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 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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