The novel’s brilliant individual vignettes far outshine a rather flimsy overarching plot.

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A BURNING

A polyphonic novel that sharply observes class and religious divisions in India.

Shaken by a terrorist attack that sets train cars ablaze and kills more than a hundred people, Jivan, a young Muslim woman living in the nearby Kolabagan slum, posts a careless comment lambasting the government on Facebook and is thrown in jail as a suspect for the attack. As her case becomes national news and the public is increasingly convinced of her guilt, Jivan works to prove her innocence by arranging clandestine conversations with a reporter. “Believe me when I say you must understand my childhood to know who I am, and why this is happening to me,” she tells him. It was a youth marked by poverty, humiliation, and violence, often at the hands of local officials: Policemen wielding bamboo rods demolished her family’s hut in a rural village, leaving her father with a debilitating injury, and the family was tricked into purchasing a plot in a dangerous slum. Meanwhile, as Jivan’s trial nears, two of her acquaintances become witnesses: Lovely, a neighbor who learned English from Jivan, takes acting classes and dreams of becoming a film star while PT Sir, the physical training teacher at Jivan’s old school, gets involved with the populist Jana Kalyan Party and performs a series of increasingly morally questionable acts to curry favor with its leader. Debut author Majumdar has a gift for capturing the frustrating arbitrariness of local government and conjures up scenes in just a few well-chosen images, like this lunch: “PT Sir looks at her, and her plate, where she has made a pile of fish bones, curved like miniature swords.” Lovely, a hijra—a trans woman who lives in a religious community with others like her—is, voicewise, a particular gem. “My chest is a man’s chest, and my breasts are made of rags. So what? Find me another woman in this whole city as truly woman as me.” But Jivan’s storyline feels a bit thin, seemingly purpose-built to make a point about the very real injustices of being poor and a member of a hated religious minority.

The novel’s brilliant individual vignettes far outshine a rather flimsy overarching plot.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-65869-6

Page Count: 304

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 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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Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

DREAM TOWN

An old-fashioned gumshoe yarn about Hollywood dreams and dead bodies.

Private investigator Aloysius Archer celebrates New Year’s Eve 1952 in LA with his gorgeous lady friend and aspiring actress Liberty Callahan. Screenwriter Eleanor Lamb shows up and offers to hire him because “someone might be trying to kill me.” “I’m fifty a day plus expenses,” he replies, but money’s no obstacle. Later, he sneaks into Lamb’s house and stumbles upon a body, then gets knocked out by an unseen assailant. Archer takes plenty of physical abuse in the story, but at least he doesn’t get a bullet between the eyes like the guy he trips over. A 30-year-old World War II combat veteran, Archer is a righteous and brave hero. Luck and grit keep him alive in both Vegas and the City of Angels, which is rife with gangsters and crooked cops. Not rich at all, his one luxury is the blood-red 1939 Delahaye he likes to drive with the top down. He’d bought it with his gambling winnings in Reno, and only a bullet hole in the windscreen post mars its perfection. Liberty loves Archer, but will she put up with the daily danger of losing him? Why doesn’t he get a safe job, maybe playing one of LA’s finest on the hit TV show Dragnet? Instead, he’s a tough and principled idealist who wants to make the world a better place. Either that or he’s simply a “pavement-pounding PI on a slow dance to maybe nowhere.” And if some goon doesn’t do him in sooner, his Lucky Strikes will probably do him in later. Baldacci paints a vivid picture of the not-so-distant era when everybody smoked, Joe McCarthy hunted commies, and Marilyn Monroe stirred men’s loins. The 1950s weren’t the fabled good old days, but they’re fodder for gritty crime stories of high ideals and lowlifes, of longing and disappointment, and all the trouble a PI can handle.

Well-done crime fiction. Baldacci nails the noir.

Pub Date: April 19, 2022

ISBN: 978-1-5387-1977-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 8, 2022

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2022

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