THE LOCKED ROOM

VOL. III OF NEW YORK TRILOGY

The first two volumes of Auster's "New York Trilogy"—City of Glass (1985) and Ghosts (1986)—used mystery-fiction formulas as the basis for avant-garde explorations of identity crisis, death wish, and other existential traumas. This concluding book offers more straightforward treatment of similar material—as a middling N.Y. writer finds happiness, then despair, by taking over the life and work of his more gifted alter ego. The unnamed narrator here is a reasonably successful young book-critic circa 1976—when he answers a plea from lovely Sophie Fanshawe: her writer-husband has disappeared, leaving Sophie with a baby, a closetful of unpublished manuscripts, and instructions on how to proceed. So the narrator, who was Fanshawe's childhood friend/soulmate, agrees to follow Fanshawe's wishes: he'll evaluate the manuscripts, arranging either for their publication or their incineration. And the result is that the narrator is soon presiding over "a small industry" of acclaimed Fanshawe works; he also marries wonderful Sophie (she gets a quickie divorce from Fanshawe, who's presumed dead), adopts her baby son, and begins work on the definitive biography of this mysterious, hitherto-unknown genius named Fanshawe. But career/domestic bliss soon sours, of course—because the narrator learns (via an enigmatic message) that Fanshawe's still alive, because research for the bio leads to the awareness that "lives make no sense." Now obsessed with locating Fanshawe, the narrator finds himself out of control—having sex with Fanshawe's mother ("fucking out of hatred"), vowing to kill Fanshawe, committing random violence, losing himself in a booze/sex binge. And finally, after realizing that Fanshawe "functioned as a trope for the death inside me," the narrator has a showdown with his elusive, cryptic alter-ego. In its first half, this is an intriguing literary-world tale, slightly unreal, yet persuasive enough to be likably reminiscent of stories by Bellow, Henry James, and many others. Then, however, murky psycho-philosophical dynamics—Camus manque—take over, much as they did in Ghosts. (The apparently autobiographical narrator says of the trilogy: "These three stories are finally the same story, but each one represents a different stage in my awareness of what it is about.")

Pub Date: Jan. 20, 1987

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Sun & Moon

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1987

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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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