L.A. MENTAL

Seasoned mystery writer McMahon (Dead Silver, 2008, etc.) steps into a new genre with his first thriller.

Tom Crandall, the scion of a wealthy Los Angeles family, takes a job teaching psychology at a community college. Tom also keeps an eye on his family’s vast business and real-estate holdings, but much of his time goes into preventing his fractious family from throttling one another. It’s his relationship with ne’er-do-well brother Nick that gets him and the rest of the Crandalls into hot water. Nick, a drug-addled 30-something surfer and competitive swimmer who has never made a go of anything but bad relationships, kicks off Tom’s nightmare by calling his brother in the wee hours of the morning and drawing the unsuspecting Tom out to the site of the Crandall family’s Malibu beach home, where Nick totters madly on a cliff before plunging over. After rescuing Nick from the chilly waters, Tom discovers that the incident is connected to recent activity involving his other brother, Paul, who oversees the Crandalls’ business empire. Paul has become entangled with both an extramarital affair and a shadowy company that makes motion pictures. That company has rented the family lodge for use in an upcoming movie. Tom soon suspects there is more to the film company, the production and Paul’s involvement than meets the eye. In the meantime, Tom meets a beautiful actress and discovers a sinister conspiracy involving nano-particles. He digs deeper into the situation only to find his entire belief system challenged, both by betrayals from the ones he loves and from the strange group of people who have entered his life. The writing is first-rate; McMahon can sling words with the best of them. But the weaving of science fiction into the story line is unsatisfying and the characters shallow. While the concept is certainly plausible, the plot is underdeveloped and spare, and the book falls short of being either convincing or compelling. The plot reads as if dashed off to meet a deadline, but the book is somewhat redeemed by decent writing.  

 

Pub Date: Sept. 27, 2011

ISBN: 978-0-06-134078-9

Page Count: 304

Publisher: HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Sept. 20, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2011

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

THEN SHE WAS GONE

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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THE LAST TRIAL

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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