Well-written, insightful, and spooky—an entertaining courtroom tale.



An attorney defends a childhood friend on a murder charge while receiving guidance from his mentor’s ghost in this debut legal thriller.

Born in the early 1980s in Chico, a California farming town, the nameless narrator of this novel becomes a lawyer in the U.S. Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps in South Florida. His apathy is, for once, replaced by pride and a sense of purpose. But when his lover, a former client, breaks things off with him, she reports him to his commanding officer, forcing the narrator’s resignation. Deciding that moving back to Chico might be a good idea, he sends around a highly embellished resume and gets an offer. In Chico, the narrator’s new boss, John Hodgkinson, becomes his mentor until dying about a year later. The narrator begins his own practice, his confidence increasing, although being back in Chico is lonely. His family ties are frayed (his mother’s dementia is worsening) and during many solitary hours, he drinks and goes on long drives, which later he recollects only vaguely. In 2016, the narrator’s self-assurance is shaken again by the homicide case he’s assigned, given that his resume falsely claimed experience with felony murder trials. His client is Scotty Watts, a high school acquaintance who’s deteriorated from sports hero to drug addict and jailbird. Scotty has since tried to go straight, but now faces a murder charge, claiming to remember nothing about why he was discovered mopping up a large pool of blood. No body can be found, but the amount of blood suggests murder. As the narrator investigates, he notices that something about the case is weirdly familiar. Odder still, Scotty’s dog begins speaking to him, and the narrator sees and hears John, who offers advice and commentary. As the narrator defends his client and keeps searching, he gets closer to unbearable truths. In his novel, Benson offers a believable courtroom drama that’s nicely explicated and grounded in good legal details such as the voir dire jury-selection process. The Chico setting also contributes to the overall story; for example, the tension between traditional agricultural farmers and marijuana growers like Scotty suggests possible motives for framing him. Beyond that, the author takes a standard form, the legal thriller, and adds subtle notes of psychological/supernatural suspense. John’s ghostly presence in the narrator’s life is at first mild, though strange; he offers supportive remarks and wise counsel, such as a book recommendation (The Conscience of a Lawyer by David Mellinkoff). The dog’s occasional comments could be seen as imaginative or even whimsical. But John’s appearances become frightening; he sports a grotesquely stretched-out smile and repeats phrases over and over (“The bandanna, the water, the farmers, the lot, the wind, the rain”) that have something to do with the murder, and drive the narrator to distraction. The groundwork for all this is laid early on, but with such a light touch that clues are easy to overlook, and will keep many readers guessing until the end.

Well-written, insightful, and spooky—an entertaining courtroom tale.

Pub Date: July 1, 2018


Page Count: 264

Publisher: Time Tunnel Media

Review Posted Online: Aug. 26, 2018

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.


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. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in white society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her white persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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