A gnarly, satisfying caper set among moviemakers in Hollywood.

CINEMATIC IMMUNITY

A key grip trying to write a script gets sucked into a strange conspiracy in this comic crime novel. 

Sam Agonistes does his own stunts. Not movie stunts, of course. Just the garden-variety, impulsive, middle-aged dude kind: “Like the time I got up on an overfilled recycling bin to stomp down the cardboard boxes and ended up flat on my back in the driveway....Or the time I decided the best way to get rid of the Christmas tree was to shove it in the fireplace and put a match to it.” A Hollywood grip–turned-screenwriter, Sam has the assurance that if he can simply compose the right script, superstar Shemahn will finance and star in the movie. The only problem? He hasn’t got the slightest idea of what to write. His writer’s block is interrupted by the appearance of a beautiful, much younger woman at his front door. Petunia Biggars tells him that she’s in danger and that he is too, though Sam—wary of a con job—sends her on her way. Sam is already distracted from dealing with his ex-wife and adult children, particularly his son, Atticus, whose anger is keeping him from professional and personal success. A few days later, some men in an SUV bearing Glocks show up, and Sam realizes that Petunia might have been correct. Luckily—or unluckily—Sam may be just the right kind of impulsive man to survive this outlandish Hollywood happening. Rowland’s (King Me, 2009) prose is laden with references to films and the people who make them—appropriate given the protagonist’s line of work. At one point, Sam muses: “Debbie Fisher practically potty-trained my daughter; Gregory Peck was an honorary godfather to our son….You get the picture. Sure, my Ex’s father wasn’t a Westmore—and her mother wasn’t a Salad Sister—but she had a hairstyling pedigree that predated Technicolor.” Some of the author’s stylistic choices, like the absence of quotation marks, make the plot a bit difficult to follow, but the beats will be recognizable to those familiar with fish-out-of-water crime novels. Similar to The Big Lebowski and Inherent Vice, Sam’s tale is a slacker detective story that will likely appeal the most to men of his same generation and cultural reference points.

A gnarly, satisfying caper set among moviemakers in Hollywood.

Pub Date: N/A

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: 184

Publisher: Manuscript

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2020

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

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DEVOLUTION

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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Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

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WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING

A wild child’s isolated, dirt-poor upbringing in a Southern coastal wilderness fails to shield her from heartbreak or an accusation of murder.

“The Marsh Girl,” “swamp trash”—Catherine “Kya” Clark is a figure of mystery and prejudice in the remote North Carolina coastal community of Barkley Cove in the 1950s and '60s. Abandoned by a mother no longer able to endure her drunken husband’s beatings and then by her four siblings, Kya grows up in the careless, sometimes-savage company of her father, who eventually disappears, too. Alone, virtually or actually, from age 6, Kya learns both to be self-sufficient and to find solace and company in her fertile natural surroundings. Owens (Secrets of the Savanna, 2006, etc.), the accomplished co-author of several nonfiction books on wildlife, is at her best reflecting Kya’s fascination with the birds, insects, dappled light, and shifting tides of the marshes. The girl’s collections of shells and feathers, her communion with the gulls, her exploration of the wetlands are evoked in lyrical phrasing which only occasionally tips into excess. But as the child turns teenager and is befriended by local boy Tate Walker, who teaches her to read, the novel settles into a less magical, more predictable pattern. Interspersed with Kya’s coming-of-age is the 1969 murder investigation arising from the discovery of a man’s body in the marsh. The victim is Chase Andrews, “star quarterback and town hot shot,” who was once Kya’s lover. In the eyes of a pair of semicomic local police officers, Kya will eventually become the chief suspect and must stand trial. By now the novel’s weaknesses have become apparent: the monochromatic characterization (good boy Tate, bad boy Chase) and implausibilities (Kya evolves into a polymath—a published writer, artist, and poet), yet the closing twist is perhaps its most memorable oddity.

Despite some distractions, there’s an irresistible charm to Owens’ first foray into nature-infused romantic fiction.

Pub Date: Aug. 14, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-7352-1909-0

Page Count: 384

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 15, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2018

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