A clever and inventive tale that at times fails to realize its whimsical potential.



A stoner questions everything in life after being hired at an eccentric housing development in California.

Avitabile (A Rum Truck, 2013) begins his latest novel with what’s either an existential polemic or a simple question: “Do you know why you’re here?” Luke Balena, a well-meaning, if crass and lazy, stoner who grew up in Carlsbad, receives an invitation in the mail to Malibu Oaks, an exclusive enclave for the super-rich that’s desperate for new hires to help maintain its control. (Residents renting their homes on Airbnb have begun to question the all-important owners’ fees.) The strange job interview features questions like “What is Kanye West?” (Possible answers include: “Egotist,” “Too Black,” or “Trustworthy.”) Even though he’s unsure of how well he performed, Luke is offered the job of “investigator” and told that he will be helping a mysterious organization called “The Board” keep track of residents who might be partying too hard and abusing their properties. He soon befriends the affable Wolf, a man employed as a “happy” (someone responsible for walking around and projecting positivity at all times to make Malibu Oaks more appealing). Both of them often find they aren’t needed for these new positions and instead pass the days drinking, skydiving, or learning the consequences of crossing The Board’s “No Trespassing” signs. But Luke’s personal routine of dispensaries and hallucinations gets its biggest shock from a charming woman named Amy. At times, the book’s oddities, such as Wolf’s circular explanation that his job is having the day off, approach those by such masters of the uncanny as Haruki Murakami. But too often, the strangeness feels unsure of itself. There is a constant, unresolved tension between whether Luke’s narration is a goofy, marijuana-fueled perspective on plausible events or if readers have entered a completely separate, off-kilter reality. Avitabile is at his best when he chooses to be unapologetically surreal about Luke’s crude humor that’s riddled with pop-culture references. The author doesn’t pull it off consistently, but when he does, plenty of intriguing things to investigate present themselves at Malibu Oaks.

A clever and inventive tale that at times fails to realize its whimsical potential.

Pub Date: N/A


Page Count: 336

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2017

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Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.


Ten years after her teenage daughter went missing, a mother begins a new relationship only to discover she can't truly move on until she answers lingering questions about the past.

Laurel Mack’s life stopped in many ways the day her 15-year-old daughter, Ellie, left the house to study at the library and never returned. She drifted away from her other two children, Hanna and Jake, and eventually she and her husband, Paul, divorced. Ten years later, Ellie’s remains and her backpack are found, though the police are unable to determine the reasons for her disappearance and death. After Ellie’s funeral, Laurel begins a relationship with Floyd, a man she meets in a cafe. She's disarmed by Floyd’s charm, but when she meets his young daughter, Poppy, Laurel is startled by her resemblance to Ellie. As the novel progresses, Laurel becomes increasingly determined to learn what happened to Ellie, especially after discovering an odd connection between Poppy’s mother and her daughter even as her relationship with Floyd is becoming more serious. Jewell’s (I Found You, 2017, etc.) latest thriller moves at a brisk pace even as she plays with narrative structure: The book is split into three sections, including a first one which alternates chapters between the time of Ellie’s disappearance and the present and a second section that begins as Laurel and Floyd meet. Both of these sections primarily focus on Laurel. In the third section, Jewell alternates narrators and moments in time: The narrator switches to alternating first-person points of view (told by Poppy’s mother and Floyd) interspersed with third-person narration of Ellie’s experiences and Laurel’s discoveries in the present. All of these devices serve to build palpable tension, but the structure also contributes to how deeply disturbing the story becomes. At times, the characters and the emotional core of the events are almost obscured by such quick maneuvering through the weighty plot.

Dark and unsettling, this novel’s end arrives abruptly even as readers are still moving at a breakneck speed.

Pub Date: April 24, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-5464-5

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Atria

Review Posted Online: Feb. 6, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 2018

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A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed...

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Trying his final case at 85, celebrated criminal defense lawyer Sandy Stern defends a Nobel-winning doctor and longtime friend whose cancer wonder drug saved Stern's life but subsequently led to the deaths of others.

Federal prosecutors are charging the eminent doctor, Kiril Pafko, with murder, fraud, and insider trading. An Argentine émigré like Stern, Pafko is no angel. His counselor is certain he sold stock in the company that produced the drug, g-Livia, before users' deaths were reported. The 78-year-old Nobelist is a serial adulterer whose former and current lovers have strong ties to the case. Working for one final time alongside his daughter and proficient legal partner, Marta, who has announced she will close the firm and retire along with her father following the case, Stern must deal not only with "senior moments" before Chief Judge Sonya "Sonny" Klonsky, but also his physical frailty. While taking a deep dive into the ups and downs of a complicated big-time trial, Turow (Testimony, 2017, etc.) crafts a love letter to his profession through his elegiac appreciation of Stern, who has appeared in all his Kindle County novels. The grandly mannered attorney (his favorite response is "Just so") has dedicated himself to the law at great personal cost. But had he not spent so much of his life inside courtrooms, "He never would have known himself." With its bland prosecutors, frequent focus on technical details like "double-blind clinical trials," and lack of real surprises, the novel likely will disappoint some fans of legal thrillers. But this smoothly efficient book gains timely depth through its discussion of thorny moral issues raised by a drug that can extend a cancer sufferer's life expectancy at the risk of suddenly ending it.

A strongly felt, if not terribly gripping, sendoff for a Turow favorite nearly 35 years after his appearance in Presumed Innocent.

Pub Date: May 12, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-5387-4813-8

Page Count: 448

Publisher: Grand Central Publishing

Review Posted Online: Feb. 10, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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