ANGELMAKER

A bang comes at the door, and with it an offer that one shouldn’t refuse but must. Thus begins Brit novelist Harkaway’s (The Gone-Away World, 2008) latest stuffed-to-the-rafters romp through genres and eras. 

Harkaway is the son of spy-thriller master John le Carré, but he has none of his father’s economy or world-weariness. Indeed, he takes a more-is-better approach: If one jape is good, 10 will kill; if one dramatic arc succeeds, let’s have a few more. The tale opens up as a sort of hard-boiled fantasy: The unfortunately named Joe Spork, a clock repairer by day, finds himself drawn into a weird web involving his father, a gangster and half of British intelligence during World War II and the early years of the Cold War, all courtesy of a sort of doomsday machine that falls into his possession. The current inhabitants of Whitehall want it. So does a bad, bad Asian dictator. A band of steampunks called the Ruskinites—you’ve got to know a little something about Victorian aesthete John Ruskin for that joke to work—figure in the proceedings, as do assorted hunters and collectors. Joe has a few choices: He can hit the trail, he can turn tough-guy and fight back or he can sell out. Which choice he’ll stick with is a matter on which Harkaway leaves us guessing, meanwhile traveling the edges between fantasy, sci-fi, the detective novel, pomo fiction and a good old-fashioned comedy of the sort that Jerome K. Jerome might have written had he had a ticking thingy instead of a boat as his prop. Harkaway is a touch undisciplined; his tale stands comparison to Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84, but it’s a lot looser, and sometimes there’s too much of a good thing. But it’s a funny surfeit, rich with good humor and neat twists—and you’ve got to love the self-doubting super-spy heroine, once a bit of a femme fatale, now a dotty oldster: “She has to admit privately that she may be mad…She has not lost her marbles or popped her garters, or any of the cosier sorts of madness she had observed in her contemporaries. She has, if anything, gone postal.” A touch early in the season for a beach book, though just the kind of thing to laugh at away from polite society. Top-notch.

 

Pub Date: March 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-0-307-59595-9

Page Count: 496

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2012

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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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Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless...

SPLIT SECOND

Two defrocked Secret Service Agents investigate the assassination of one presidential candidate and the kidnapping of another.

Baldacci (The Christmas Train, 2002, etc.) sets out with two plot strands. The first begins when something distracts Secret Service Agent Sean King and during that “split second,” presidential candidate Clyde Ritter is shot dead. King takes out the killer, but that’s not enough to save his reputation with the Secret Service. He retires and goes on to do often tedious but nonetheless always lucrative work (much like a legal thriller such as this) at a law practice. Plot two begins eight years later when another Secret Service Agent, Michelle Maxwell, lets presidential candidate John Bruno out of her sight for a few minutes at a wake for one of his close associates. He goes missing. Now Maxwell, too, gets in dutch with the SS. Though separated by time, the cases are similar and leave several questions unanswered. What distracted King at the rally? Bruno had claimed his friend’s widow called him to the funeral home. The widow (one of the few characters here to have any life) says she never called Bruno. Who set him up? Who did a chambermaid at Ritter’s hotel blackmail? And who is the man in the Buick shadowing King’s and Maxwell’s every move? King is a handsome, rich divorce, Maxwell an attractive marathon runner. Will they join forces and find each other kind of, well, appealing? But of course. The two former agents traverse the countryside, spinning endless hypotheses before the onset, at last, of a jerrybuilt conclusion that begs credibility and offers few surprises.

Assembly-line legal thriller: flat characters, lame scene-setting, and short but somehow interminable action: a lifeless concoction.

Pub Date: Sept. 30, 2003

ISBN: 0-446-53089-1

Page Count: 406

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: June 24, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 2003

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