Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

READ REVIEW

THE WEREWOLF OF BAMBERG

Someone or something is chomping on the good burgers of Bamberg, and it’s up to executioner-turned-detective Jakob Kuisl to figure out the whys and wherefores.

Being a hangman has some bennies, including, in the fraught era of counterreformation and inquisition, plenty of job security. Yet Jakob has been ticked off at the good citizens of Schongau ever since his pop “died in great agony” in a cold winter that saw the 1 percent comfortably bundled in furs and the great masses dying of hunger and frostbite. So what’s a self-respecting Bavarian to do? Head for a cathedral city for beer and solace, of course. In the company of daughter Magdalena and occasionally hapless son-in-law Simon (“If you can read books,” growls Jakob, “why can’t you read people?”), Jakob thus makes for Bamberg, where much is amiss. In this latest installment in the Hangman’s Daughter series, bestselling German writer Pötzsch (The Beggar King, 2013, etc.) is not always well-served by an off-handedness that sometimes comes off like Dick Shawn in The Producers (“Maybe he has the plague….That’s going around now”). Still, the setup is delicious: in a time of maddening superstition and general ineptitude (“These stupid drunks would probably get stuck even in a dry riverbed”), some party unknown is adding to the chaos by sinking blades or perhaps fangs and claws into the necks of the unsuspecting Bambergers, and it’s a grand entertainment to watch Jakob and associates go all CSI on the proceedings and sniff, deduce, and otherwise reason toward a solution that involves plenty of red herrings—or red simians, anyway. Fans of catacombs and secret underground cities will thrill at Jakob’s discoveries, and along the way Pötzsch turns in some quietly thoughtful moments that aren’t gooey with sentiment: “As a hangman’s daughter,” he writes to lovely effect, “Magdalena knew all too well how it felt when people looked away when they saw you and secretly crossed themselves.”

Occasionally ham-fisted, but good fun overall.

Pub Date: Dec. 29, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-544-61094-1

Page Count: 592

Publisher: Mariner/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Review Posted Online: Oct. 8, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

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King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

THE INSTITUTE

The master of modern horror returns with a loose-knit parapsychological thriller that touches on territory previously explored in Firestarter and Carrie.

Tim Jamieson is a man emphatically not in a hurry. As King’s (The Outsider, 2018, etc.) latest opens, he’s bargaining with a flight attendant to sell his seat on an overbooked run from Tampa to New York. His pockets full, he sticks out his thumb and winds up in the backwater South Carolina town of DuPray (should we hear echoes of “pray”? Or “depraved”?). Turns out he’s a decorated cop, good at his job and at reading others (“You ought to go see Doc Roper,” he tells a local. “There are pills that will brighten your attitude”). Shift the scene to Minneapolis, where young Luke Ellis, precociously brilliant, has been kidnapped by a crack extraction team, his parents brutally murdered so that it looks as if he did it. Luke is spirited off to Maine—this is King, so it’s got to be Maine—and a secret shadow-government lab where similarly conscripted paranormally blessed kids, psychokinetic and telepathic, are made to endure the Skinnerian pain-and-reward methods of the evil Mrs. Sigsby. How to bring the stories of Tim and Luke together? King has never minded detours into the unlikely, but for this one, disbelief must be extra-willingly suspended. In the end, their forces joined, the two and their redneck allies battle the sophisticated secret agents of The Institute in a bloodbath of flying bullets and beams of mental energy (“You’re in the south now, Annie had told these gunned-up interlopers. She had an idea they were about to find out just how true that was"). It’s not King at his best, but he plays on current themes of conspiracy theory, child abuse, the occult, and Deep State malevolence while getting in digs at the current occupant of the White House, to say nothing of shadowy evil masterminds with lisps.

King fans won’t be disappointed, though most will likely prefer the scarier likes of The Shining and It.

Pub Date: Sept. 10, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-9821-1056-7

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Aug. 4, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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Not his best, but a spooky pleasure for King’s boundless legion of fans.

THE OUTSIDER

Horrormeister King (End of Watch, 2016, etc.) serves up a juicy tale that plays at the forefront of our current phobias, setting a police procedural among the creepiest depths of the supernatural.

If you’re a little squeamish about worms, you’re really not going to like them after accompanying King through his latest bit of mayhem. Early on, Ralph Anderson, a detective in the leafy Midwestern burg of Flint City, is forced to take on the unpleasant task of busting Terry Maitland, a popular teacher and Little League coach and solid citizen, after evidence links him to the most unpleasant violation and then murder of a young boy: “His throat was just gone,” says the man who found the body. “Nothing there but a red hole. His bluejeans and underpants were pulled down to his ankles, and I saw something….” Maitland protests his innocence, even as DNA points the way toward an open-and-shut case, all the way up to the point where he leaves the stage—and it doesn’t help Anderson’s world-weariness when the evil doesn’t stop once Terry’s in the ground. Natch, there’s a malevolent presence abroad, one that, after taking a few hundred pages to ferret out, will remind readers of King’s early novel It. Snakes, guns, metempsychosis, gangbangers, possessed cops, side tours to jerkwater Texas towns, all figure in King’s concoction, a bloodily Dantean denunciation of pedophilia. King skillfully works in references to current events (Black Lives Matter) and long-standing memes (getting plowed into by a runaway car), and he’s at his best, as always, when he’s painting a portrait worthy of Brueghel of the ordinary gone awry: “June Gibson happened to be the woman who had made the lasagna Arlene Peterson dumped over her head before suffering her heart attack.” Indeed, but overturned lasagna pales in messiness compared to when the evil entity’s head caves in “as if it had been made of papier-mâché rather than bone.” And then there are those worms. Yuck.

Not his best, but a spooky pleasure for King’s boundless legion of fans.

Pub Date: May 22, 2018

ISBN: 978-1-5011-8098-9

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: March 5, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2018

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