CONGO

Entertainer-educator Crichton, that clever devil, has done it again—by dressing up one of the oldest book/movie scenarios around with enough capsulized science, history, and geography to keep readers happily on their toes. It's an expedition to darkest Africa, to the northeast corner of the Congo rain forest in Zaire, in search of a lost city (Zinj) full of diamonds and danger. Old hat, right? Wrong. Because this expedition, led by Karen Ross of Earth Resources Technology Services (ERTS) in Houston, is the nth degree in hi-tech—portable computers, laser-beam navigation, satellite TV-hookup with Houston—and the juxtaposition of super-gadgetry with nature at its wildest is simply splendid. Furthermore, since a previous ERTS trek to Zinj was decimated by gorilla-like creatures (according to videotape analysis), primate expert Peter Elliot is along; and with him is adorable gorilla Amy—who understands English and is fluent in sign language. (By coincidence, Amy's been having nightmares about a city that looks just like legendary Zinj.) So there's lively lecture material a-plenty—computers, zoology, linguistics, Congo botany, etc.—as Karen, Peter, Amy, and mercenary Munro (what used to be the Robert Shaw role) head towards Zinj via parachute jump, river-rapids, and mountain-climbing. . . while fending off cannibals, an angry hippo, guided missiles, and sophisticated sabotage by a rival German-Japanese team. (The Zinj diamonds are the raw material for computer-chips that will revolutionize everything.) And when they do arrive at Zinj, where the rival team has been massacred, the ERTS team is soon under attack by this odd mutant killer-gorilla species—descendants of apes who were long ago trained to be ruthless guards of the diamond hoard. Thanks to Amy, however, the team learns enough gorilla lingo to drive the killers off, they find the diamond lode, Karen insists on blasting—and so a nearby volcano erupts, necessitating a balloon-escape finale for this thoroughly diverting diversion. True, Crichton's short-chaptered, constantly challenging smorgasbord approach doesn't quite disguise the lack of genuinely developed storytelling here, and one ends up feeling just slightly cheated: many of the provocative questions raised are never really resolved. But Dr. C. is one of the world's great explainers. And his fascinating lineup of scientific toughies-made-easy, along with the African scenery and the agreeably sentimental Peter/Amy relationship, makes this—page for page—the classiest junk-food entertainment in quite some time.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 1980

ISBN: 0061782556

Page Count: 499

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 21, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1, 1980

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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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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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