A promising novel that skillfully uncovers obstacles for its protagonist to overcome.


In this debut thriller, a repressed incident mars a young woman’s life for years.

In 2009, Ellie Frites is a 20-something in a dead-end customer-service job at a tech company who spends her downtime drinking with a handful of friends. She can’t seem to sustain a relationship with a man, although she does have a new boyfriend named Tim. She’s also still grieving her beloved father’s death, due to cancer, which happened more than a decade ago. Ellie’s humdrum existence is shaken up when she begins having upsetting visions of her middle-school days, set in a rundown part of Marshside, Massachusetts, known as The Hollow. The visions specifically involve Lauren Vine and Maxine Lang, two of her former school friends, with whom Ellie lost touch when her best friend, Sarah, arrived from private school. Now, she can’t remember anything about what happened to them: “Did they move? Switch schools?” When Ellie fails to get any more information from either Sarah or her own estranged mother, she decides to go see psychologist Elizabeth Rollins. The doctor’s hypnotherapy helps Ellie to unlock repressed memories, which may put her and those she loves, including Tim, in danger. In this well-paced narrative, Barrell explores the relationship between Ellie’s newfound recollections and her present-day existence. For example, the character considers herself to be a pathetic loser when, in actuality, it’s clear that her past trauma has inhibited her. Once Barrell reveals the monstrous crime at the center of Ellie’s story, readers will understand why Ellie’s mind blocked it out—and in this novel, what you can’t see can hurt you. The author also shows the subtle, positive changes in the main character’s life as she slowly discovers what’s been haunting her. The supporting cast members, both at Ellie’s work and in her private life, are equally believable. All told, Barrell’s admirable debut is an engaging journey into a troubled mind.

A promising novel that skillfully uncovers obstacles for its protagonist to overcome.

Pub Date: Feb. 21, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5432-4858-6

Page Count: 274

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 3, 2018

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Forget about solving all these crimes; the signal triumph here is (spoiler) the heroine’s survival.


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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Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.


A serial killer with a sense of history is the baddie in this latest from Baldacci, one of the reigning kings of potboilers (Split Second, 2003, etc.).

He kills, he leaves clues, he flatters through imitation: Son of Sam, the San Francisco Zodiac killer, Richard Ramirez, John Wayne Gracy, and so on down a sanguinary list of accredited members of the Monsters’ Hall of Fame. Suddenly, the landscape of poor little Wrightsburg, Virginia, is littered with corpses, and ex-Secret Service agents Sean King and Michelle Maxwell have their hands full. That’s because bewildered, beleaguered Chief of Police Todd Williams has turned to the newly minted private investigating firm of King and Maxwell for desperately needed (unofficial) help. Even these ratiocinative wizards, however, admit to puzzlement. “But I'm not getting this,” says Michelle. “Why commit murders in similar styles to past killers as a copycat would and then write letters making it clear you’re not them?” Excellent question, and it goes pretty much unanswered. Never mind—enter the battling Battles, a family with the requisite number of sins and secrets to qualify fully as hot southern Gothic and to prop up a plot in need. Bobby Battles, the patriarch, is bedridden, but Remmy, his wife, is one lively mischief-making steel magnolia. She’s brought breaking-and-entering charges against decent local handyman Junior Deaver, who as a result languishes in the county jail. Convinced of his innocence, Junior’s lawyer hires King & Maxwell to sniff around for exculpatory evidence. Well, will the two plot streams flow together? You betcha. Will the copycat-serial-killer at one point decide that King and Maxwell are just too clever to live? Inevitably. And when at last that CCSK’s identity is revealed and his crimes explained (talkily and tediously), will readers be satisfied? Only the charitable among them.

Lame but, like its predecessors, bound for bestsellerdom.

Pub Date: Oct. 26, 2004

ISBN: 0-446-53108-1

Page Count: 440

Publisher: N/A

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2004

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