THE WIDOW KILLER

A powerful sense of the ambiguities of political and moral allegiance distinguishes this fascinating melodrama, translated into English for the first time, by the celebrated Czech playwright and novelist (I Am Snowing, 1994, etc.). Kohout’s increasingly suspenseful and gripping story is set in Prague under German occupation. The year is 1945, and the Nazi high command is beginning to orchestrate a mass “retreat” designed to “trap” pursuing Allied forces. Simultaneously, a hunt is underway for the savage “widow killer” whose victims are left grotesquely mutilated. In beautifully handled parallel scenes, Kohout explores the wounded hearts and minds of his major characters: young Czech homicide detective Jan Morava, whose newfound romantic happiness will be crucially tested by the horrors of the case he’s assigned; the Gestapo’s —liaison officer” with the Czech authorities, the widower Erwin Buback—a conscience-ridden German struggling to elude complicity with his fatherland’s crimes; and the eponymous murderer, a righteous psychotic whose motivations are unfortunately presented in delirious reveries that are both redundant and derivative (Kohout betrays considerable indebtedness to Thomas Harris’s Red Dragon and The Silence of the Lambs). Still, the steps leading to the murders, and those depicting investigative procedures involving Czech and German authorities, are riveting; the characterizations (especially that of the idealistic, sadly disillusioned Morava) are distinctive and incisive; and Kohout raises his tale to an impressive level when the vainglorious “widow killer” resolves “I AM THE NATION . . . . the new avenger of Czech shame.” The story reaches a brilliant apex when Nazi attempts to evacuate Prague and the detectives’ pursuit of their quarry dovetail in a fiery climax. It’s arguable that Kohout spells out his message rather too explicitly (“The unknown and unpredictable widow slaughterer stripped the thin veneer of civilization from mankind and threatened to return humanity to its savage prehistory”)—but enthralled readers aren’t likely to object. A superb reimagining of modern history, skillfully transmuted into absorbing fiction.

Pub Date: Nov. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-312-19363-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: St. Martin's

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 1998

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A tasty, if not always tasteful, tale of supernatural mayhem that fans of King and Crichton alike will enjoy.

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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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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