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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Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

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THE LAST THING HE TOLD ME

When a devoted husband and father disappears, his wife and daughter set out to find him.

Hannah Hall is deeply in love with her husband of one year, Owen Michaels. She’s also determined to win over his 16-year-old daughter, Bailey, who has made it very clear that she’s not thrilled with her new stepmother. Despite the drama, the family is mostly a happy one. They live in a lovely houseboat in Sausalito; Hannah is a woodturner whose handmade furniture brings in high-dollar clientele; and Owen works for The Shop, a successful tech firm. Their lives are shattered, however, when Hannah receives a note saying “Protect her” and can’t reach Owen by phone. Then there’s the bag full of cash Bailey finds in her school locker and the shocking news that The Shop’s CEO has been taken into custody. Hannah learns that the FBI has been investigating the firm for about a year regarding some hot new software they took to market before it was fully functional, falsifying their financial statements. Hannah refuses to believe her husband is involved in the fraud, and a U.S. marshal assigned to the case claims Owen isn’t a suspect. Hannah doesn’t know whom to trust, though, and she and Bailey resolve to root out the clues that might lead to Owen. They must also learn to trust one another. Hannah’s narrative alternates past and present, detailing her early days with Owen alongside her current hunt for him, and author Dave throws in a touch of danger and a few surprises. But what really drives the story is the evolving nature of Hannah and Bailey’s relationship, which is by turns poignant and frustrating but always realistic.

Light on suspense but still a solid page-turner.

Pub Date: May 4, 2021

ISBN: 978-1-5011-7134-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2021

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 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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