An exasperating, caustic read that is difficult to swallow, despite its brevity.

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HOW TO SURVIVE A NATURAL DISASTER

The story of a dysfunctional suburban family, seen through the eyes of its most troubled members.

More anthropomorphized animals and midlife crises from journalist and critic Hawkins (A Year of Cats and Dogs, 2009, etc.) make for a weird and spiteful second novel. This odd multinarrator drama feels like a big fake-out from the beginning. The book opens with a confession from May, a newly landed immigrant adoptee from Peru, robbed of her native name of Esmeralda. The experience, it seems, has rendered her mute. After that jarring introduction, we meet April, May’s precocious sister, who is the center of her mother’s world. Their mother, Roxanne, is a hateful, hypocritical Stepford Wife aspirant who takes her considerable venom out on her husband. Craig, meanwhile, is a beta male with many regrets, who responds to his wife’s nagging to get a job by obsessively filling out contest entries. Though he genuinely loves his adopted daughter, his confessions are merely sad. “Later, years later, Roxanne accused me of staying for the kitchen. It was a low blow, though she was partly right,” he says. “The truth is I didn’t know where else to go.” This story of familial self-destruction is familiar, although Hawkins doses the book with truly bizarre perspectives that may intrigue more impulsive readers. The outsider’s perspective comes from Phoebe, the obese shut-in who lives next door and uses her creepy observations to chronicle the family’s destiny. The insider’s look comes from Mr. Cosmo, the family’s three-legged Weimaraner. “I don’t mean to sound self-absorbed although I know that’s how people think of me—flighty and selfish and handsome—but the stress in that household was almost unbearable by then,” the dog moans. Readers who get this far will be rewarded with a clichéd tragedy that may well inspire them to turn on any characters they’ve embraced.

An exasperating, caustic read that is difficult to swallow, despite its brevity.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1-57962-204-6

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Permanent Press

Review Posted Online: June 21, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2010

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Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

ONE GOOD DEED

Thriller writer Baldacci (A Minute to Midnight, 2019, etc.) launches a new detective series starring World War II combat vet Aloysius Archer.

In 1949, Archer is paroled from Carderock Prison (he was innocent) and must report regularly to his parole officer, Ernestine Crabtree (she’s “damn fine-looking”). Parole terms forbid his visiting bars or loose women, which could become a problem. Trouble starts when businessman Hank Pittleman offers Archer $100 to recover a ’47 Cadillac that’s collateral for a debt owed by Lucas Tuttle, who readily agrees he owes the money. But Tuttle wants his daughter Jackie back—she’s Pittleman’s girlfriend, and she won’t return to Daddy. Archer finds the car, but it’s been torched. With no collateral to collect, he may have to return his hundred bucks. Meanwhile, Crabtree gets Archer the only job available, butchering hogs at the slaughterhouse. He’d killed plenty of men in combat, and now he needs peace. The Pittleman job doesn’t provide that peace, but at least it doesn’t involve bashing hogs’ brains in. People wind up dead and Archer becomes a suspect. So he noses around and shows that he might have the chops to be a good private investigator, a shamus. This is an era when gals have gams, guys say dang and keep extra Lucky Strikes in their hatbands, and a Lady Liberty half-dollar buys a good meal. The dialogue has a '40s noir feel: “And don’t trust nobody.…I don’t care how damn pretty they are.” There’s adult entertainment at the Cat’s Meow, cheap grub at the Checkered Past, and just enough clichés to prove that no one’s highfalutin. Readers will like Archer. He’s a talented man who enjoys detective stories, won’t keep ill-gotten gains, and respects women. All signs suggest a sequel where he hangs out a shamus shingle.

Archer will be a great series character for fans of crime fiction. Let’s hope the cigarettes don’t kill him.

Pub Date: July 9, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5387-5056-8

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Nov. 14, 2019

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Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

CROOKED RIVER

FBI Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast finds evil afoot in his latest action-filled adventure (Verses for the Dead, 2018, etc.).

Imagine Florida beachcombers’ shock when they discover a shoe with a severed foot inside. Soon they see dozens more feet, all in identical shoes, bobbing toward the beach. Police and FBI ultimately count more than a hundred of them washing up on Sanibel and Captiva Islands' tranquil shores. Pendergast teams up with the junior Special Agent Armstrong Coldmoon to investigate this strange phenomenon. Oceanographers use a supercomputer to analyze Gulf currents and attempt to determine where the feet entered the ocean. Were they dumped off a ship or an island? Does each one represent a homicide? Analysts examine chemical residues and pollen, even the angle of each foot’s amputation, but the puzzle defies all explanation. Attention focuses on Cuba, where “something terrible was happening” in front of a coastal prison, and on China, the apparent source of the shoes. The clever plot is “a most baffling case indeed” for the brilliant Pendergast, but it’s the type of problem he thrives on. He’s hardly a stereotypical FBI agent, given for example his lemon-colored silk suit, his Panama hat, and his legendary insistence on working alone—until now. Pendergast rarely blinks—perhaps, someone surmises, he’s part reptile. But equally odd is Constance Greene, his “extraordinarily beautiful,” smart, and sarcastic young “ward” who has “eyes that had seen everything and, as a result, were surprised by nothing.” Coldmoon is more down to earth: part Lakota, part Italian, and “every inch a Fed.” Add in murderous drug dealers, an intrepid newspaper reporter, coyotes crossing the U.S.–Mexico border, and a pissed-off wannabe graphic novelist, and you have a thoroughly entertaining cast of characters. There is plenty of suspense, and the action gets bloody.

Great storytelling, a quirky hero, and a quirkier plot make this a winner for adventure fans.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4725-4

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Jan. 13, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2020

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