An intriguing but ultimately underwhelming architecture tale.

THE FREEDOM BUILDING

An architect wakes up unable to remember the last three years—the most successful of his career—in this debut novel.

When the Zenith Star building in downtown Blanworth is destroyed in a terrorist attack, local architect John Gowan isn’t overly upset. In fact, John jokes that it was probably an architect who blew up the ugly glass tower. He wonders who will get the contract to build the replacement, though his partner, Pete Williams, assures him it will be a bigger firm than theirs. Even so, John begins to fantasize about the building he would put on the site if given the chance. Following a car accident, John awakes in a hospital bed, assuming a day has passed at most. It turns out that it’s actually been three and a half years. But John hasn’t been in a coma the whole time: During the elapsed period, he actually managed to win the contract to replace the Zenith Star building. “Three and a half years ago,” he reads incredulously in the newspaper, “after the destruction of the old Zenith Star building, the little-known architect John Gowan had a dream to design a new building that might not only restore Blanworth’s city skyline” but revolutionize it. The new construction based on his design is scheduled to begin that same day. John simply has no memory of any of it. What’s more, when he tries to look at the image of his design in the paper, his vision becomes blurry. In fact, when he attempts to look at any blueprints or specs of the building, he is simply incapable of seeing them. Struggling to keep his condition a secret, John sets out to discover exactly what happened to him to cause him to lose his memory, unveiling a mystery that is much deeper than any terrorist conspiracy. Kendall has concocted a nifty little puzzle, reminiscent of a plotline from The Twilight Zone or perhaps Black Mirror. But as pure literature, the book is somewhat problematic. The author attempts a heightened prose yet ends up using odd words and causing comprehension difficulties: “The town was set in a valley, and its dirty streets reflected a pale spring sun that scattered deadweight over the town. Red brick slums oozed false pride onto the entrapped town centre. Those who earned enough fled to the far-reaching countryside.” John is a flat and unlikable character, and while readers will be curious about what has caused his amnesia, they will have little affection for him personally due to his vanity and lack of empathy for others. He undergoes no Scrooge-like epiphany by the end; rather, the opinion of the author seems to be that John simply didn’t believe in himself enough (though even on this point, things aren’t clearly articulated). The lack of a compelling emotional core undermines the captivating premise, causing it all to feel like a thought exercise more than an immersive human experience. A book that clearly wants to be about something ends up being about not very much at all.

An intriguing but ultimately underwhelming architecture tale.

Pub Date: Dec. 3, 2019

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 218

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Jan. 17, 2020

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

THEN SHE WAS GONE

Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.

A CONSPIRACY OF BONES

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. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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