A reckless woman in a spiky story of violence flirts with the possibility of redemption.

A musk of sex and menace soaks three narrative strands, expertly braided.

This taut, harrowing novel opens in italics and in the voice of Kay Norton, a cynical white journalist in Uganda having desultory sex and tracking the atrocities of a warlord called General Christmas: “Whatever we printed simply fed his hunger for publicity. He had no insights, he had no grand plan, no sense of justice. He was just another asshole with a gun.” But unlike Finn's tour de force The Gloaming (2016), the bulk of this book lies outside Africa, unspooling in picturesque rural Vermont, where two desperate people are mired: Ben Comeau, a logger/heroin dealer, and Kay, now Kay Ward, ambivalent mother of two certain she smells her husband’s infidelity, imagining his lover “waiting for him in Amsterdam or Dublin, wherever his flight hubbed through. She was issuing a flurry of ardent texts. She was shaving her legs.” Kay has her own distractions, registering Ben: “For she felt the smile, where he aimed it, way down low.” But Kay is more intent on her absent landlord, Frank Wilson, and the creepy totems of violence surrounding her. Finn writes with a phrasing flare on par with Lauren Goff’s: a junkie rests “in the easy hammock of her high”; a mute boy’s unexpected laugh blossoms into “a foreign sound, like a migrant bird blown off course.” The author is excellent at contrasting the snug nature of beauty and horror—the pretty nails of a social worker point out the unspeakable in a child abuse document—even as Finn mines her characters for motives. Kay considers asking General Christmas “about his influences—Marx, Castro, Donald Trump?” Her curiosity and dread drive the novel and move her toward a terrifying denouement. She is at the mercy of a conflicted man who “feels the hissing pleasure of spite: to hurt for hurting’s sake.” Finn puts her readers on the knife’s edge.

A reckless woman in a spiky story of violence flirts with the possibility of redemption.

Pub Date: May 15, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-937512-69-9

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Two Dollar Radio

Review Posted Online: June 17, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2018


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

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. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020


The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and...

An amazingly intricate and ambitious first novel - ten years in the making - that puts an engrossing new spin on the traditional haunted-house tale.

Texts within texts, preceded by intriguing introductory material and followed by 150 pages of appendices and related "documents" and photographs, tell the story of a mysterious old house in a Virginia suburb inhabited by esteemed photographer-filmmaker Will Navidson, his companion Karen Green (an ex-fashion model), and their young children Daisy and Chad.  The record of their experiences therein is preserved in Will's film The Davidson Record - which is the subject of an unpublished manuscript left behind by a (possibly insane) old man, Frank Zampano - which falls into the possession of Johnny Truant, a drifter who has survived an abusive childhood and the perverse possessiveness of his mad mother (who is institutionalized).  As Johnny reads Zampano's manuscript, he adds his own (autobiographical) annotations to the scholarly ones that already adorn and clutter the text (a trick perhaps influenced by David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest) - and begins experiencing panic attacks and episodes of disorientation that echo with ominous precision the content of Davidson's film (their house's interior proves, "impossibly," to be larger than its exterior; previously unnoticed doors and corridors extend inward inexplicably, and swallow up or traumatize all who dare to "explore" their recesses).  Danielewski skillfully manipulates the reader's expectations and fears, employing ingeniously skewed typography, and throwing out hints that the house's apparent malevolence may be related to the history of the Jamestown colony, or to Davidson's Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph of a dying Vietnamese child stalked by a waiting vulture.  Or, as "some critics [have suggested,] the house's mutations reflect the psychology of anyone who enters it."

The story's very ambiguity steadily feeds its mysteriousness and power, and Danielewski's mastery of postmodernist and cinema-derived rhetoric up the ante continuously, and stunningly.  One of the most impressive excursions into the supernatural in many a year.

Pub Date: March 6, 2000

ISBN: 0-375-70376-4

Page Count: 704

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2000

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