A measured and inquisitive speculative mystery with a lyrical soul.


In Johnson’s debut SF novel, an experienced investigator looks into several murders in an era in which serious crime is almost nonexistent.

Decades in the future, Ansel Black is the last detective left on the Rim, a sparsely populated windswept region between the urbanized Everything Sector and the uninhabitable Waste. When it comes to solving crimes, he’s not entirely on his own, though: He has an ANI (short for annotated intelligence) program that can predict the likelihood of any suspect’s guilt as a percentage. There aren’t that many Real Crimes anymore, as most people stay at home inside their cubes and act out their destructive urges in an ANI-run virtual reality known as the Stream. The ruminative Ansel is unsatisfied with both his work and his life in general: “Years as a detective have developed in Ansel something of a sixth sense: specifically, an ability to measure the proximity of a truth that is just out of grasp. It is a sense that has guided him…to surprising confessions. He has but to apply it to something greater.” Then he catches five strange murders. The victims were found shot to death in a religious settlement at the edge of the Waste. ANI’s comprehensive observation network somehow missed how all five of them got there, but evidence suggests each of them arrived on their own. Clearly, someone (or several someones) blacked out ANI’s cameras—a feat that Ansel would normally have considered to be an impossibility. To figure out how these people died, he will have to rely on an antiquated solution: good old-fashioned detective work. The ensuing investigation, which involves clues hidden in cryptic paintings of children watched over by a backward moon, soon becomes a personal quest into the true purpose of ANI—and of Ansel himself.

In its themes and content, this novel is reminiscent of the works of Philip K. Dick. In the world of the novel, technology has reached the singularity—the Great Merger, as it’s called—rendering humankind largely obsolete. The slightly old-fashioned Ansel, who fetishizes the pre-Merger “Classic Era” and writes his musings by hand in a diary, makes for a thoughtful foil to the dystopian world in which he lives. Over the course of the novel, Johnson’s tidy prose effectively captures the melancholic weirdness of the desertlike Rim, a place of ruins and abandoned objects: “Ansel leans into the dead Rim atmosphere as the breeze pulls softly towards the Waste. His longjacket ruffles sideways past the splintered framework of some structure that has lost its identity. He scans the rubble with his wrist enhancement and ANI provides her empty synopsis of the area’s history.” As in Dick’s work, the story eschews a tight mystery structure and doesn’t generate a great deal of narrative momentum. Ansel’s philosophical journal entries are frequently excerpted, and his personal struggle for meaning and purpose provides the book’s true narrative arc. Fans of cerebral SF will likely devour this offering and eagerly await Johnson’s future books.

A measured and inquisitive speculative mystery with a lyrical soul.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2021

ISBN: 978-1087999920

Page Count: 258

Publisher: Self

Review Posted Online: Feb. 24, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 2023

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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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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. 9, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2020

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Twisty, thrilling, and beautifully written.


Things aren't what they seem in the supposedly idyllic state of Prospera.

Cronin’s latest takes place in Prospera, an archipelago state that “exists in splendid isolation, hidden from the world.” The main island is designed to be something of a paradise, “free of all want and distraction,” where residents are urged to pursue art and personal betterment. The Annex, another island, is “home to the support staff—men and women of lesser biological and social endowments.” Proctor Bennett lives on the main island and works as a “ferryman”—when his fellow residents become older or infirm, he escorts them to a boat that will carry them to the “Nursery Isle,” where they are reborn as teenagers who will then rejoin Prospera. One day, Proctor learns that the next person he’s in charge of ferrying is his father, and it turns out the old man doesn’t go quietly—on the way to the pier, he begins muttering seemingly incomprehensible phrases, telling his son, “The world is not the world,” and “You’re not...you.” Then things get even more complicated: Proctor meets art dealer Thea, who’s tight with a group of dissatisfied Annex residents, and then he gets fired from his job, which leads him to believe Prospera might not be everything he’s thought it was. He’s also trying to navigate his increasingly rocky marriage to Elise, a fashion designer whose mother, Callista, is the chair of the Board of Overseers for All Prospera—“the boss of everything.” The twists in this novel are plentiful and authentically surprising, and although there are tons of moving parts, Cronin does a wonderful job handling them. This is a dystopian novel that doubles as a detective story, and Proctor is an appealing protagonist, semi-hard-boiled but never descending into cliché. Cronin’s prose is solid, and he handles the dialogue, sometimes leavened with humor, expertly. It’s a hefty book that moves with an astounding quickness—yet another excellent offering from an author with a boundless imagination and talent to spare.

Twisty, thrilling, and beautifully written.

Pub Date: May 2, 2023

ISBN: 9780525619475

Page Count: 560

Publisher: Ballantine

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2023

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2023

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